Immigrants in Spain - Their Role in the Economy and the Effects of the Crisis

By Élteto, Andrea | Romanian Journal of European Affairs, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Immigrants in Spain - Their Role in the Economy and the Effects of the Crisis


Élteto, Andrea, Romanian Journal of European Affairs


Abstract:

In the last decade Spain definitely became a country of immigrants. This article describes the characteristics and economic role of immigration, the oficial policy towards the phenomenon and the effects of the financial and economic crisis of the last two years. The five million immigrants had important effect on the Spanish demography, employment and education system. Foreigners found vacant jobs first of all in the construction industry and agriculture. To the end of 2007 however, the construction boom ended and Spain sank into a deep recession. Unemployment rate jumped to 20 percent to the spring of 2010 leaving mass of immigrants without jobs. Tolerance of the Spanish people towards immigrants seems to decrease and foreigners has become another problem for the - otherwise overloaded government.

Keywords: immigrants, Spain, crisis, employment, immigration policy

Introduction

Spain was a country of emigrants for a long time. In the eighteenth century many left for the Latin-American colonies and between 1960-75 to Europe, mainly to France and Germany. As a consequence of the civil war also many Spanish people went abroad in the first half of the past century. It was first in 1975 that more people returned than emigrated from the country.

Spain went through significant economic and social changes with the democratic transformation. Since the middle of eighties the country became a member of the European Union and changes continued. Wealth increased, economy developed, but inequalities sharpened. The role of education grew and indicators improved in this field. As a consequence, the number of those people willing to take less favourable jobs decreased. The share of service sector became bigger and Spanish women entered the labour market in large numbers.

Parallel to all these changes Spain became a country of immigrants. This article examines this fact, describing the characteristics, economic role of immigration, the policy towards immigrants and the effects of the financial and economic crisis that began at the end of 2007.

I. Immigration as a new phenomenon

Since the end of the nineties immigration has been increasing in Spain. Graph 1 shows the dynamic year-toyear increase. (The last year shows the effect of the crisis). Immigration became a topic in several places (media, academic debates, conferences, journals) and a factor to deal with in education and health system.

Between 2000 and 2007 Spanish economy showed an impressive boom period with an average of 3,5% GDP growth. The growth was based mainly on the service and construction sector and this created a lot of jobs. Although the Spanish labour market represents 9% of the employed in the EU, between 2001 and 2007 the Spanish share in EU-employment increase was 31% (Mahi?a-del Arce, 2010). Vacant jobs (existing because of structural problems on the labour market and not because of the lack of Spanish workers) attracted a mass of immigrants into the country as a pull? factor. A further attraction has been the welfare state and the high share of black economy (20% of the active labour force).

In the last decade the number of immigrants increased fivefold. 5.7 million foreigners live in Spain today, which means 12.2% of the population 1 . With this number Spain is in the second place after the USA among OECD countries regarding the absolute numbers of immigrants (Sanroma et al., 2009). The share of foreign residents in the Spanish population was only 2.3% in 2000 but already 12% in 2009 (Castro Martin, 2010); thus after Luxemburg and Switzerland Spain is on the third place among OECD countries. The latest survey of the Spanish statistical office (INE) (Encuesta Nacional de Inmigrantes, 2007) provides detailed information on immigrants in the country (age, gender, nationality, legal status, job, wage, etc.). This information complete other statistical sources like local registers (Padron Municipal), active population register (Encuesta de Poblacion Activa), and census (Censo de Poblacion). …

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