Brexit No Deterrent As Italians, Greeks Still Seek Jobs in U.K.

  • Spanish, Portuguese influx is down in stark contrast
  • Data may reflect different recovery paces in southern Europe

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No matter what Brexit might have in store for foreigners, the U.K. remains a powerful magnet for youth from Italy and Greece looking for a job and a better future. It’s less so for their peers in Spain and Portugal.

That’s according to the latest data on the U.K. national insurance number from the London-based Office for National Statistics and may reflect the different pace of economic recovery from the last decade’s slump across the euro region.

In the year to June, almost 60,000 Italians and over 15,000 Greeks obtained the insurance code for the first time, rising 2 percent and 13 percent respectively on an annual basis, according to ONS. The official number is required to work in the U.K.

The increases are in stark contrast to the number of permits obtained by citizens from Spain and Portugal. Over the same period, they were down 11 percent and 13 percent respectively on an annual basis, according to ONS. The increased flow of Italians and Greeks also goes against the trend in the European Union as a whole that recorded a 9 percent decline.

Greece, Spain and Italy have the highest youth unemployment rates in the euro region, according to the latest data from the European statistics office Eurostat.

Abandoning Home

“For many Italians and Greeks, the benefits of emigrating are still higher than the costs of abandoning their home country,” said Tommaso Frattini, an associate professor of Economics at the University of Milan.  “The gap with other euro-area nations is significant and seems to mirror the two countries’ weak recovery -- besides, Spain is currently growing at a substantially faster pace than Britain,” said Frattini, who co-authored a 2014 study on EU migrants to Britain.

The U.K.’s labor market and social benefits system have long been attractive to young people from southern Europe.

In the eight years though 2015, when record-long, double-dip recessions shrank the two nations’ economies and destroyed millions of jobs, 257,000 national insurance numbers were assigned by U.K. authorities to Italians and almost 54,000 to Greeks. In the same period, about 266,000 Spaniards and 167,000 Portuguese also successfully applied for the job permit.

Italy is keen on “multiplying the opportunities for those who are willing to come back,” Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Sept. 19, speaking at an event at New York University. “We are trying to do this and it is not easy.”

— With assistance by Ross Larsen, Alessandra Migliaccio, and Vernon Silver

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