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Spanish Immigration : A Two-Tier System ?

By The Equalizer - Thu 18th Aug 2011

As a regular contributor on a number of forums it always frustrates me when I see the number of questions or comments that unfairly brand Spain and the Spanish as being overly racist – or Xenophobic at best.

Of course, like almost every other country, there is always going to be a racist minority, but it frustrates me when so many of those asking these questions have either never been to Spain themselves and are basing this assumption on what 'they have heard', or are simply assuming that the trend that a minority of football fans have set represents the rest of the population.

The sad thing is that if these rumours are spread often enough, then more people start to believe them.

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So how are we Immigrants generally viewed in Spain ?

It has always been something that I have been curious to understand, as I know from rumblings in the UK that the country's policy on immigration generally takes the blame from everything from Hospital waiting lists, falling standards of education and increasing levels of unemployment. Now that boot is on the other foot, so to speak, am I as an immigrant in Spain, seen to represent everything that is 'wrong' with Spanish society ?

The boring stuff :

A recent study by the National Institute of Statistics showed how Spain had 5.7 Million Immigrants living in the country, which represented 12.33% of the total population. Only Germany had a higher number at 7.1 Million, but this represented just 8.7%.

By comparison, the UK has 4.4 Million, which represents 7% of the population.

The Interesting Stuff :

However, there has been two recent studies that have have taken place that have drawn some interesting conclusions :

1.) A study on Immigration and the Welfare system in Spain (Click HERE for details ) reported how Immigrants made up over 12% of the Population, but only accounted for 5.6% usage of 'welfare resources'. It concluded that Immigrants as whole contributed more to the economy than they took out, and were therefore an asset to society rather than a drain on resources.

2.) However, last week a study by the Bank of Spain revealed that between Jan – March of 2010 Immigrants sent a total of 1.582 Billion Euros back to their native countries in wages that they had earned in Spain – up 16% on the previous quarter and a trend that was on the rise. A Pro-rata 6 Billion Euros per year that the Spanish economy would probably prefer to keep in it's own back pocket.

A 'Two-Tier' System ?

I would be stereotyping and generalising if I attempted to offer my theory by attributing this to the nationality of particular immigrant groups, however it's reasons can still probably be guessed at politically.

Of the 5.7 Million Immigrants living and working in Spain legally, an estimated 1.1 Million are “Lifestyle” Immigrants, with a further are 4.9 Million “Economic” Immigrants. (Stats from Wikipedia)

The Property boom that Spain had in the middle of the last decade, together with many parts of the previous Eastern Bloc being welcomed into the EU, meant that many immigrants flooded into Spain to find work in the construction trade, and doing menial and manual jobs that many Spaniards simply didn't want to do.

Also, the property boom was largely funded by Thousands of Northern Europeans looking to purchase a home in Spain either to retire to, or as an investment property etc... either way, the majority of who would not be reliant on finding work here in order to provide a source of income.

However, it is a reality that it is inevitably the “Economic” Immigrants who are finding themselves under the microscope now that the boom years have gone and the construction jobs are no longer there, and many Spaniards are now seemingly willing to do the the menial jobs that were previously beneath them.

It is such Economic Immigrants who are sending money back to their homes countries in South-East Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Inevitably only last week Spain asked the EU Commission to allow them to restrict work permits offered to Romanian citizens in the fear that they were taking jobs that could be offered to native Spaniards. This came after they opened up the labour market to them after joining the EU in 2007. Romanians currently represent the no.1 Immigrant group in Spain with 840'000 nationals – 15% of all Immigrants.

Northern and Western Europeans have been excluded from similar treatment for the time being, but does it set a precedent of a 'two (or even three) tier' system being on the cards in the future ?

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