UAE the land of opportunity for Europe's struggling jobseekers

Euro Zone: Tough austerity measures and rising unemployment in the single-currency bloc have forced many Europeans to look to the UAE for healthier job prospects.

"We will stay here three years or longer if the situation in Greece does not get better," says Nikolas Tsimidakis, the executive chef of the Majestic Hotel in Bur Dubai. Jeff Topping / The National
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Tough austerity measures and rising unemployment in the single-currency bloc have forced many Europeans to look to the UAE for healthier job prospects. While some must leave their families behind, others have relocated with their spouses and children to join fellow expatriates. We profile some of the individuals who have left Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain.

Greece: Fewer tourists meant chef faced being laid off or having pay cut

Tom Arnold

When Nikolas Tsimidakis's daughter was barely a month old, he made one of the hardest decisions of his life.

Leaving his wife and child in Greece, he uprooted to Dubai to work as an executive chef.

It a was painful move, but he had little choice. Hotels in Greece were hit by a decline in tourism as the country's fiscal crisis scared off visitors. As a result many places were laying off staff or cutting wages.

"The opportunities in Greece were very bad," Mr Tsimidakis says. "I didn't have a job and salaries and insurance were going down and many were offering no pensions. The option was stay in Greece and get hungry or move overseas and find a better life."

A month and a half on, Mr Tsimidakis plans to bring his family to join him in Dubai in September. "We will stay here three years or longer if the situation in Greece does not get better," says Mr Tsimidakis, 33, who works at the Majestic Hotel in Dubai.

He is one of a growing number of Greeks who have switched from their homeland to the UAE in an effort to escape the impact of tough austerity measures and economic problems.

More than 1,000 Greeks have left for the Emirates during the past year, bringing the total expatriate population from the country to more than 3,000.

Stella Giasta, 30, made the same move nine months ago to a job at the Majestic Hotel, where she works as a revenue manager.

"The main reason I came here was a chance to grow my career but the crisis made the reason to leave more urgent," she says.

Panos Psaltakis, a lawyer, relocated to Dubai after the pharmaceuticals company he worked for set up an office in the emirate.

"I made my decision to come in December 2010," he says. "At the time, 70 or 80 per cent of people I spoke to in Greece said, 'You should stay.' When I returned recently 99 per cent of them said, 'You've done the right thing.'"

Mr Psaltakis, 30, blames Greece's problems on successive governments using money from the European Union to grow the public sector to unsustainable levels.

Ireland: Young economic exiles put down roots in a thriving network

Sean Cronin

It may not be the most obvious place to watch Irish national sports but there are now an estimated 150 people playing regular Gaelic football and hurling in Dubai alone.

The numbers have doubled from five years ago, while other teams are growing in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Al Ain as an exodus of young Irish graduates arrives in the UAE.

Many are exiles from an economic crisis in a country where unemployment is now touching 15 per cent as a result of severe austerity measures imposed by the government after an €85 billion (Dh394.59bn) bailout from Brussels in 2010.

Off the playing field the growing Irish presence in the Emirates can also be seen in the burgeoning numbers of members at the Irish Business Network (IBN).

Dubbed “The Murphia” in other countries where Irish exiles have thrived, the UAE’s relatively new IBN has grown to some 300 signed-up members in less than two years.

“We are definitely seeing more Irish companies land here,” says the IBN chairman Brian King – as close as it comes to a godfather for networked Irish business professionals in the Emirates. “There are a lot of highly educated 25 to 35-year-olds arriving.”

Similar Irish business networks are also under development in Doha, Riyadh and Cairo.

“Young people like the lifestyle here,” says Donal McCarthy, a 20-year veteran of the Gulf of Arabia who acts as a consultant to Irish firms setting up in the region.

“In the old days you would see teachers coming out for two or three years before returning to Ireland to take up a teaching job at home. But that teaching job isn’t there any more and they are staying longer.”

Colm Kelly, a project manager from Ballina in County Tipperary is one of a new wave of economic arrivals from Ireland. He quickly secured work with a Dubai construction company and found the local Irish business and sporting networks extremely supportive.

"Back home everyone is obsessed with the fiscal pact, interest rates, property prices. It's just an onslaught," he says. "Here there is none of that negativity."

Portugal: Mum-of-two shuts up shop in Portugal to find new life in Dubai

Gregor Stuart Hunter

When Portugal's economic crisis convinced Lurdes Silva, 34, to close down the furniture design company she had managed for nine years, she took a path not commonly travelled by her compatriots.

In 2010, along with her husband and two daughters, Mrs Silva relocated from Porto to Dubai to take advantage of greater economic opportunities available in the Emirates.

"In Portugal, I had my own company but we closed the company and we came here," she says. "Now it's a new challenge."
Within a year, Portugal was forced to apply for a €78 billion (Dh362.09bn) bailout from the European Union, becoming the third euro-zone victim.

Mrs Silva is among 1,200 Portuguese expatriates living in the Emirates, whose numbers are slowly but surely increasing.
"Few people think to come to the UAE," she says. "Most people think of France and Spain and they're not as open to working outside."

For the time being, Mrs Silva has no plans to return to Portugal.

“As of right now I’m not thinking about this, because I’m not seeing any opportunities there,” she says. “It’s not easy, people don’t have jobs and companies are closing down every day.”

Portugal’s government is looking towards the Arabian Gulf to bolster its flagging economy.

The country is hoping to attract more GCC tourists as Emirates Airline begins direct flights from Dubai to Lisbon next month.
"Dubai opens the door for two important markets – the Middle East and the Asian markets," said Cecilia Meireles, Portugal's tourism minister, on a visit to Abu Dhabi last week.

About 14 million visitors travelled to Portugal last year, accounting for 9.2 per cent of the country’s economy. But it has been forced to look to new markets.

Francisco Moser, the chief operating officer of Altis Hotels, hopes to attract wealthy Middle East travellers as the euro depreciates.
"We're trying to rebuild our economy, with a lot of effort from everyone," he says.

"I think the next year, or the next two years, will get better."

Spain: Spaniards with good qualifications forced to find work overseas

Tom Arnold

Gonzalo Gaspar hopes to start a business in Spain one day.

But the economic turmoil raging in his homeland is one of the major reasons he’s staying put in the UAE for now.

“I have a few extremely well-qualified friends of mine in Spain who have been searching for good jobs for a while. That shows how tough the situation is,” says Mr Gaspar, 47, from Santander, who has lived in the UAE for five and a half years.

Working as a regional agent for the IE Business School, he has seen a growing number of young and educated Spaniards move to the Emirates as job opportunities in his homeland have dried up.

“They’re the lost generation as a lot of these people are leaving the country and may not come back,” he says. “You will emigrate, maybe meet a wonderful girl and get a good job and enjoy working and playing hard in Dubai.”

The number of Spaniards in the UAE has almost doubled since 2008 to reach more than 2,200 people, according to the Embassy of Spain.

While the rise is an indication of Spain's unemployment challenge it also reflects the country's growing links with the UAE. Spanish exports to the Emirates rose 36.6 per cent last year compared with the previous year. In addition, more than 100 Spanish companies operate in the UAE.

Mariano Andres has seen a growing number of Spanish people chomping down paella and tapas at Seville’s, the Spanish restaurant he manages in Dubai’s Wafi centre.

He returned to Dubai two years ago after initially overseeing the launch of Seville’s 12 years ago. “I was around the 50th Spanish person in Dubai when I came and now there’s a lot more of us,” says the 40-year-old.

Mr Andres sees his immediate future in Dubai.

“The main problem in Spain has been in the last 15 or 20 years we were building like crazy and too much of the economy was based on construction. When the crisis came no one was investing in property any more and now we have 4 million people out of work in construction,” he says.

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