By Nick Squires, Rome, Fiona Govan in Madrid and Jeevan Vasagar in Berlin
8:00PM BST 14 Apr 2013
Italians, Spaniards and Greeks are forsaking their homelands and heading over the Alps to the more robust economies of Germany and Switzerland, as economies contract across the Mediterranean.
Greeks are facing a difficult life during the economic crisis Photo: EPA
In Greece, the unemployment rate is now 26.4 per cent, the highest in the euro zone, with youth unemployment at a staggering 58 per cent.
Spain has the euro zone's second highest rate of unemployment, with 26.3 per cent of people now out of work, while Cyprus's relatively modest rate of 14 per cent is expected to rise sharply in the wake of the devastating contraction of its financial sector, a condition of the country receiving a massive bail-out by international creditors.
In Italy, new figures released this week showed that there are now nearly six million people without jobs, out of a population of around 60 million.
Italy's employers' organisation warned at the weekend that the country has lost a full percentage of GDP in less than two months thanks to the political paralysis in the country following inconclusive elections in February.
"No matter how much we both worked in Rome, the money was never enough," said Grazia Bonsignore, 46, a translator and teacher, who moved with her husband from Rome to Zurich two years ago in search of more secure contracts and better paid work.
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"We now earn enough money to cover the rent, expenses, insurance and holidays and the quality of life is a lot higher."
She is one of a growing number of Italians for whom La Dolce Vita is no longer so sweet as a result of a deep recession, almost negligible economic growth and stringent austerity measures.
The number of Italians, among them highly qualified graduates and professionals, who have decided to emigrate rose 30 per cent between 2011 and 2012, from 60,000 to 79,000, according to figures published last week.
There was a particularly sharp increase in the number of Italians aged 20 to 40 who are forging new lives abroad.
The most popular destination was Germany, followed by Switzerland, Britain and then France.
Spain is witnessing the same phenomenon, with the latest figures showing that the number of Spaniards moving abroad rose by 114,000 last year – more than six per cent more than the year before.
The most dramatic brain drain has taken place in Greece. A recent study by the University of Thessaloniki found that more than 120,000 professionals, including engineers, doctors and scientists, left the country since the start of its economic crisis three years ago.
The results of the exodus can be seen in Germany, where official figures show a surge in migration from crisis-hit Mediterranean nations.
Statistics published by the Federal Statistical Office showed that in the first six months of 2012, there was a 78 per cent increase in migration from Greece and a 53 per cent rise in Spanish migration.
Official figures show that more than 31,000 Italians migrated to Germany in 2012.
There has also been a boom in the number of southern Europeans signing up for German language courses.
More than 9,000 Spaniards, 4,700 Italians and some 2,000 Greeks took language classes offered by the Goethe Institute last year.
The institute, which promotes German language and culture abroad, has launched specialist language courses tailored to the needs of doctors, lawyers and engineers.
Just over a year ago, the labour agency in Stuttgart flew 96 Spanish engineers from Barcelona to Germany to meet employers.
In Germany's prosperous southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemburg there is nearly full employment and firms are desperate for skilled labour. Thirty-three of the Spanish workers were hired.
Petra Cravaack, the head of the labour agency said: "We could train unemployed people here who have lower qualifications, but we need engineers quickly. There's freedom of movement in the EU, and foreign countries where there's no work."
Germany also has a shortage of engineers, nurses and carers for the elderly and is actively recruiting from southern Europe.
Leaving behind friends, family and a familiar environment is often painful for emigrants as they try to adapt to a new language, culture and working environment.
"What do I miss about Rome? Well, the blue skies that only Rome has," said Ms Bonsignore in Zurich.
"I miss the beaches which are so easy to get to. Swiss people are very reserved. It can take more than two years to become friends with them. And the language is hard. But overall, we're doing well."