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Eastern Europe's Workers Go West, Where the Jobs Are

Young Eastern Europeans go west, leaving their governments at risk
Elevated view of Frankfurt at night
Elevated view of Frankfurt at nightPhotograph by Guy Vanderelst

Momchil Hristov, 33, doesn’t think he’ll go back to Bulgaria anytime soon. His girlfriend and his son live with him in Berlin, where he works as an engineer in a machine shop. He has friends in town, also Bulgarians, who look forward to retiring and spending their German pensions at home on the Black Sea. Igor Garcia, 38, has worked in Munich for eight years. He, too, might wait until retirement to return to Spain. The old are more valued there and besides, he says, “I would like to go to the beach.”

For the last three years, the euro crisis has masked and accelerated a quieter, long-term problem. Young Europeans, unhampered by visa requirements within the European Union, are moving north and west for work. It’s unclear whether they’ll move back while they’re still young enough to help the economies—and contribute to the welfare benefits—of their homelands.