Portuguese consider emigrating as economy worsens

LISBON (Reuters) - Emigrating is again a serious consideration for the Portuguese, reflecting the country’s deep economic woes in the face of the euro zone debt crisis hurtling down on western Europe’s poorest country.

The Portuguese have emigrated in regular waves during the past few decades, seeking an escape from dwindling economic opportunities at home.

And with things now so bad that many analysts see Portugal as the next in line after Ireland for an economic bailout, a new pulse of emigration looks inevitable.

“I am sick of Portugal, I think the country is in serious problems, we are going into a deep hole,” said Ana Maria Raposo de Oliveira, 59, an estate agent who wants to emigrate to Brazil.

The fear is that the austerity launched by Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates so far -- the 2011 budget including sweeping tax hikes and civil servant wage cuts of five percent was passed in parliament on Friday -- is just the beginning.

Many economists already think those measures will push the country back into recession next year, forcing the jobless rate still further above 10.9 percent registered in the third quarter -- already the highest level since the 1980s.

Those realities are dividing the Portuguese on whether a bailout by the European Union and International Monetary Fund would resolve anything. They have seen the impact in Greece and Ireland and many think there could be worse to come here.

“I think the government will do everything possible to resist and not ask the IMF to come in but I don’t know if it will manage,” said a woman who identified herself as Ines who works for a foreign multinational in Portugal.

“I don’t know if it (the IMF) would be good or bad,” she added, remembering that the recovery after the IMF was last in Portugal in the 1980s was long and painful.

Whether or not there is a bailout, a study published in daily Publico on Sunday showed Portuguese are already leaving in droves. It showed 100,000 people emigrated in 2007-2008, the highest since the 1960s -- a time which saw the greatest number of emigrants leave in recent history.

Some 700,000 people, or 6.5 percent of the population, emigrated between 1998 and 2008, it said.

In another sign of discontent, unions organized a strike on Wednesday, when they said three million workers walked out of their jobs to protest against falling salaries, high unemployment and deteriorating public services.

Analysts doubt the protests will sway the government, or the opposition Social Democrats who support the austerity measures, in its drive to enact tough spending cuts to tackle the crisis.

The government has promised Brussels to cut the budget deficit to 4.6 percent of gross domestic product next year from 7.3 percent this year.

Miguel Sousa Tavares, an author and columnist in weekly Expresso, wrote that strikes organized by the far-left would have no impact on policies or government.

“It is sufficient to read the international economic press to understand that the next government is coming in a month or two and that it has a name and programme ready -- it is called the IMF,” Sousa Tavares wrote.

Reporting by Axel Bugge; Editing by Ron Askew