MEXICO CITY -- The most fashionable accessory in Mexico City this winter is ... a Spaniard.
As the euro crisis shakes Spain to its core, thousands of young Spanish professionals are leaving their homeland in search of employment. The result is a mass exodus of young, educated Spaniards -- a massive brain drain, the likes of which have not been seen since the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939.
Mexico, with its historic, cultural and linguistic ties to Spain, has become a leading destination for Spaniards in the Western Hemisphere. Although firm figures are difficult to come by, Mexico's immigration office, the Instituto Nacional de Migracion, reports the number of Spaniards granted work permits in the last quarter of 2012 alone was 7,630 -- which does not include the unknown number of Spanish "tourists" who arrived in Mexico during the same period, and who are granted 90 days to apply for work permits.
In upscale neighborhoods in Mexico, like the Condesa district, the familiar lisp of Iberian Spanish is heard with greater frequency at the cafes, bistros and trendy bars. Guadalupe Díaz works for GDS, a company that specializes in expediting immigration services to foreigners in Mexico. She told the Madrid-based newspaper El Pais that the company has seen an uptick in the number of Spanish clients:
"Before [the euro crisis], I had to look for clients. Now, they search me out."
The departure of young, educated Spaniards reflects the deepening economic crisis in Europe, where many expect to see a "lost decade," which presents few career opportunities for those in their 20's and 30's. A recent report by Spain's Dept. of Labor (Encuesta de Población Activa, or EPA) estimated that last year, 166,000 Spaniards between the ages of 16 to 24 left the country looking for work abroad.
Rodrigo Gil, a Spanish sound engineer, was recently quoted by the Spanish news site Heraldo.es:
"There are few people who have studied sound [engineering] in Mexico, and there are many in Spain," he said. Gil researched opportunities in Mexico, and within a few weeks of arriving in the Mexican capital, he found employment. "I have friends who stayed in Europe, [went] to London, but they're working as waiters."
Although many Spaniards would prefer to remain in Europe, where they would be close to family and friends, language is proving an obstacle. Maria Bahamonde, an architect from Galicia, arrived in Mexico City as a tourist, but is now looking for work there.
"My parents were afraid that there was violence because of the drug war, but that's not the case," she said. "They would have preferred that I go to Germany or Switzerland, but unless you are fluent in German or English it's impossible to find comparable employment in those countries. After two months here, I feel confident enough that I can pursue my career professionally here."
She has interviewed successfully and is in the process of changing her immigration status from "tourist" to "resident foreigner."
"My parents raised their eyebrows when I told them -- it's an 11-hour nonstop flight between Madrid and Mexico City -- but I studied to be an architect, and that's what I want to do with my life," Bahamonde said.