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Financial crisis sends Lebanese packing ... for home

They leave behind high-rolling lifestyles, and remittances their tiny country has come to depend on.

“At this agency when I was trying to bargain with the salary, I was trying to play my ‘gulf experience card,’ saying, listen, I have three years of experience,” he said. “The managing director was like, ‘actually, I was hoping not to bring this up, but there are a lot of you.’”

Karam said he considers himself lucky to find a job as quickly as he did.

“Over there I had a lot of payments to make, life is more expensive in Dubai,” he said. “[The Beirut salary] still doesn’t match up, even with the cost of living, it’s less money. But I wanted to come back to Lebanon. So I’m home, you know.”

Karam has yet to buy a car in Lebanon, because he’s still trying to get rid of the one he owns in Dubai. He thinks he’ll probably have to sell his late-model Chevrolet Lumina for less than he owes on it — which is about $25,000. It’s hard to sell cars in Dubai today. Thousands of fleeing, unemployed expatriate workers are rumored to have abandoned vehicles around the city, glutting the market with cars. Rony H. is in the same position, trying to sell his car in Dubai through a friend.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Central Bank has tried to cushion and capitalize on the return of so many young expatriates by creating business start-up loans for entrepreneurs and small business owners, many of whom may be returning from the jobs abroad.

And the crisis may help reverse what many Lebanese lamented as “brain drain,” when fresh Lebanese university graduates would flock to the gulf for better salaries and benefits.

Companies from the gulf "used to come and recruit at universities,” said Nassib Ghobril, who is in charge of economic research and analysis at Lebanon’s Byblos Bank. "It was so bad that we were finding it difficult to recruit people here."

He points out that many of those graduates will now be competing with Lebanese returning from overseas for the same positions, which may glut the market with overqualified job candidates.

But some returning Lebanese aren’t finding the financial adjustment so hard. It’s returning home to live with the family that is presenting more of a challenge.

“For six years I wasn’t living with my parents. And so it’s so weird. I’m a big guy now,” Rony said. “I’m not comfortable. So once I get a new job and good salary, I will move.”

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