Soon after Spain's real-estate bust put Andrés Velarde and María Palencia out of work, the young architects gathered their drafting materials and moved 5,000 miles to Brazil—drawn by a hope, but no promise, of employment.
Within five weeks the Spanish couple had jobs in the midst of a bonanza. The South American country was expanding its low-income housing program and scrambling to build stadiums, airport terminals and hotels for the 2014 World Cup of soccer and 2016 Olympic Games.
"The crisis back home is distant news," said Mr. Velarde, eight months into his new job in Rio de Janeiro. "In Brazil, there's growth and optimism, a joyful atmosphere totally at odds with what there is in Europe."
Economic distress is driving tens of thousands of skilled professionals from Europe, and many are being lured to thriving former European colonies in Latin America and Africa, reversing well-worn migration patterns. Asia and Australia, as well as the U.S. and Canada, are absorbing others leaving the troubled euro zone.
At the same time, an influx of Third World immigrants whose labor helped fuel Europe's growth over the past decade is subsiding. Hundreds of thousands of them, including some white-collar professionals, have been returning home.
The exodus is raising concern about a potential long-term cost of the economic crisis—a talent drain that could hinder the euro zone's weakest economies as they struggle to climb out of recession.