BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA — Every time Giuliana signs into LinkedIn, her inbox in the professional networking platform is filled with job offers — she receives at least five a day. Most are from United States and European companies offering to double her salary or pay her in U.S. dollars rather than Argentine pesos. For the data scientist, the offers are tempting — so much so that she’s thinking about quitting her senior-level position at one of Argentina’s leading technology companies.
“I’m considering leaving, but only because I’m attracted by the salary in dollars,” Giuliana says. “If it were just a question of work environment, colleagues and projects, I would stay.”
Giuliana has been with her current employer for four years. (She requested to be identified only by her first name and that her employer not be named so as to avoid retaliation by the company.) The business is a local industry leader, but even it is finding itself bested by competing offers as many of her colleagues jump ship.
“Everyone I know [who quit] left for foreign companies,” Giuliana says. “It’s complicated, because there’s a permanent rotation of the staff. If a senior employee who was very active leaves, it’s as if a leg were cut off the table.”
While some information technology workers have relocated to take jobs abroad, the popularity of remote work during the coronavirus pandemic has meant that many workers are able to remain in Argentina while working for foreign companies. This freedom has been a boon to workers, who are able to pursue better work opportunities without uprooting their lives. But experts say the exodus of talent to foreign firms is inhibiting the growth of Argentina’s tech sector and threatening the country’s ability to become a leading software exporter.
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In 2020, foreign tech companies began hiring remote workers living in Argentina en masse, says Carla Cantisani, director of services and quality for Argentina and Uruguay at The Adecco Group, a human resources company. There are currently about 120,000 people who work in the tech industry in Argentina, according to the Software and IT Services Chamber of Commerce from Argentina, and Cantisani says they are in high demand internationally because of their creativity, adaptability and high levels of education.
The country’s track record when it comes to technology is strong. Argentina has produced 11 “unicorns” — tech companies whose valuations each exceeded $1 billion before going public — including Mercado Libre, the Latin American e-commerce giant; Despegar, an online travel company; and OLX, a leading classifieds platform.
Such successes haven’t been enough to retain tech talent. In 2021 there were between 5,000 and 10,000 unfilled IT jobs in the country, according to the chamber. That’s striking in a country where the unemployment rate is as high as 9.6% in the largest urban areas and where job ads routinely draw hundreds of applicants.
For many tech workers, though, the money offered by foreign companies is too good to pass up. Eighty percent of IT professionals earn between 80,000 and 250,000 pesos (between $800 and $2,500) per month working for domestic companies, according to the chamber, and people in senior-level positions can earn as much as 450,000 pesos (about $4,500) per month, Giuliana says. But foreign companies have been offering salaries of up to $10,000 a month, depending on experience.
The ability to be paid in dollars rather than pesos also is highly attractive to many Argentines, given the country’s high inflation rate, which rose 52.1% between October 2020 and October 2021. With the value of the peso plummeting, dollars are seen as a more stable currency.
“My company does not update salaries to the level that an outside company would,” Giuliana adds. “Although they have adjustments that are above inflation, this does not compensate for what you would earn in differential if you work for foreign companies.”
There is no official data on the number of Argentine tech workers who have joined foreign companies. But chamber president Sergio Candelo says the growth of the country’s sector already has begun to stall.
“We ran some numbers, and just 4,000 people leaving translates to around $250 million a year [in lost export revenue],” Candelo says.
Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina
Candelo worries that Argentina will lose its chance to become a leading software developer, and will instead simply export talent — repeating the country’s history of exporting leather and importing shoes.
“We could be a world-class technology-developing country,” Candelo says. “We could be the future of Argentina and generate 5% of GDP by 2030, or we could simply stay right where we are.”
But the changes have been good for tech workers. Whereas firms in U.S. tech haven Silicon Valley might once have insisted on employees moving to the state of California, the pandemic has made them more open to hiring remotely.
“There’s much more movement in the market,” says Cantisani, from the human resources company. “There are people who go for positions in companies that, before, were only offered to local talent.”
Juan Dans, a web developer, says he spent several years looking for work with nongovernmental organizations based in Argentina and abroad. Before the pandemic, he says, opportunities were closed to him unless he moved overseas.
“There was remote work, but only if you lived in the United States,” he says. “Now, it’s opened up much more.”
In October, Dans started a new job with a U.S.-based nonprofit that makes security applications for people in conflict zones. His salary is in dollars, and he hasn’t needed to leave Buenos Aires. Even so, like Candelo, he hopes Argentina can become more than a recruiting ground for foreign companies and develop into a leading tech hub in its own right.
“I hope that happens,” he says, “and that we’ll all want to work in Argentina out of pride and because of the quality.”