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Europeans Fill Jobs Void In Chile's Thriving Economy

posted 25 Jan 2013, 17:16 by Mpelembe   [ updated 25 Jan 2013, 17:19 ]

Europe's economic woes drive workers to the booming economy of Chile in search of work opportunities.

SANTIAGOCHILE  (REUTERS) - As the debt crisis raged across the euro zone last year, Madrid-native Laura Tapias and her partner found themselves out of work.

With nearly one in four Spaniards unemployed, their prospects looked grim.

After four months of fruitless job-hunting at home, she headed across the Atlantic toSantiago with her boyfriend, who had gotten a job in Chile's capital city.

"I came to Chile because it was looking really bad in Spain. I was out of a job and my boyfriend found work here, and that was that. We both came. He had a job and I came to look for one," Tapias told Reuters.

Two days later she found work as a hydrogeologist at an environmental consulting firm in the Santiago's business district dubbed "Sanhattan" for its resemblance to Manhattan's skyline. She isn't the only foreigner or Spaniard to recently be hired there.

The mild-mannered 33-year-old said she was surprised at how fast she found work, adding that she has received a warm welcome in Chile.

"I am really happy. I found work really quickly. I feel valued both economically and professionally and everything went well, really quickly," Tapias added.

A buoyant economy, low unemployment and rising wages have been luring foreign professionals to the copper-exporting Andean nation of 16.6 million people, which is in desperate need of skilled workers.

Chile's economic success story, one shared by many of its commodities-rich neighbours, is turning the tables on many years of migration by Latin Americans hoping to make their fortune in former colonial power Spain and other wealthy European nations.

"Today in the region (Latin America) our country is one of the countries with the highest economic indices, the highest standard of living; we were classified as one of the best countries in Latin America to live. So, immigrants basically look to better their economic situation, their chances for work," Mario Cassanello, the head of Chile's Immigration Office, told Reuters.

With Spain stuck in its second recession since 2009, Spaniards are at the forefront of a wave of Europeans heading to Chile.

Chilean visas for residents of western European nations grew 39 percent through October and surged 84 percent for Spanish nationals, according to government data. Many of them are for skilled professionals like Tapias.

Chile's attraction is an economic growth rate expected to reach up to 5.25 percent in 2013.

Not having the people, foreign or local, to fill available posts could crimp economic growth and productivity, employment analysts say.

"Studies have shown that four years from now Chile could have a deficit of about 60,000 jobs. Today the miners (we have), our education system, universities (and) technical (schools) aren't able to fill all the job openings. Therefore a lot of Spaniards who work as civil engineers, miners (and) geologists, are the ones that are being hired by the big mining companies in Chile," Cassanello added.

Job prospects have also attracted migrant workers from Latin American neighbours, like Carlos Espinoza from Colombia who found work as a butcher.

"It is going really well here. I have no problems getting work here. In fact, you can see that of the workers here, the one who's stayed here is me, because I am a very loyal person when it comes to work," Espinoza said.

Labour demand has boosted salaries, with wages rising an average 6.5 percent in the 12 months to November.

Paola Fernandez came from Peru with her children in hopes of making a better wage to care for her family.

She sells fresh squeezed juice out of a cart to workers in the business district.

"There is no money there (in Peru) and my kids need it for school. It is very expensive inPeru. Here at least I make money every day, I don't make a lot, but I make something," Fernandez said.

Brazil's government said last year it was exploring ways to ease immigration rules in order to attract up to 10 times more foreign professionals to spur economic growth. A lack of skilled workers is one of many bottlenecks that brought the world's sixth-largest economy to a near standstill in 2012, a fate Chile hopes to avoid.