Immigration Interviews

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The great escape: European migrants fleeing the recessionAs the European economic crisis deepens, more and more people are leaving to seek a better life in emerging economies around the world. We speak to four who have moved abroad

For years Europeans have wrestled with the issue of immigration, from worries about changing national identity to integration and use of resources. And with Romanian and Bulgarian citizens eligible to work in the EU next year, the debate over whether – and how many – immigrants from struggling economies should be allowed to stay is as fraught as ever. Yet something has changed. From Ireland to Greece, young Europeans are now the ones desperately seeking exit strategies from economies in free fall. Meanwhile, politicians from emerging economies such as Brazil or countries with skills shortages such as Australia are busy publicising the opportunities they offer to old-world escapees. But what is life like for those who take up the opportunities to follow the money and move abroad for work?

UK to BotswanaThe popular image of British expats used to be of retirees, soaking up the sun and the slower pace of life on the Spanish coast. Not any more, according to Home Office figures. Of the 4.7 million people who currently live outside the UK, 93% are of working age. Yet while the numbers leaving grew for the past decade, they peaked in 2008 at 427,000 and have now dropped to around 350,000 a year – possibly because in a recession people need to save up to move abroad. But the figures have been enough to spark mild panic and fears of a "brain drain". Conservative MP Nick de Bois said this month that it was worrying that "our most economically active are leaving to apply their talents elsewhere", saying many are heading to "growth economies" elsewhere in the world. One of those lured by the siren call of countries with emerging economies is Shiraz Chakera, 34, who now works for Unicef in Gaborone, Botswana: "Until the 'bonfire of the quangos' I worked in the policy unity at the General Teaching Council For England. I had been there for 10 years when the decision was announced, a few months after the current government came into power to get rid of it. They said it was to cut costs, but I think it was more political than economic. "I did not think about going abroad at first. But the opportunities in the UK were minimal – thanks to the economic crises and government policies, there wasn't going to be much investment in education. Instead, it was the emerging economies – India, China and various African nations doing exciting things. "I started applying for jobs in the UK but also abroad as my master's was in international development and education. But because about a dozen major education organisations were going under, so many people were applying for each role in the UK. For four months I looked every day, but I wasn't getting very far. I had a couple of interviews, but most of the time I didn't even get a reply. "Then I was contacted by an organisation in India – the Akanksha Foundation. They run schools in partnership with the government to improve the quality of schooling in the slums. It was a great opportunity, but the salary was local so I knew I would have to use my savings. I had also just got engaged, so it was a hard decision. Luckily, my fiance is also interested in education and international development, and loved India, and I decided I should take it to get a foot in the door. I flew out there in January 2011, and it was an amazing place to work. Mumbai and Pune, where the foundation is based, are exhilarating cities and it was a young, vibrant organisation. My wife flew out a month later, but by then I had got a call from Unicef for a job I had applied for back in October 2010 – this time in Botswana. I was really excited because it was an organisation I really wanted to work for and a job that would make a big difference. "I didn't know much about Botswana, although I had relatives...
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