Spain’s growth plan turns the tables on immigrants

Spain rocks when it comes to tapas, flamenco, and fiesta, but a peek into some serious issues and you’ll find that much is messed up and inconsistent.

On one hand Spain welcomes illegal immigrants seeking refuge, and on the other hand it’s now making it harder for legal immigrants to make a living in the country.

Spain has always been generous with amnesty. Since 2000, it has granted legal status to more than 1 million people who have lived there illegally for 3 years and could prove they were employed.

Now suddenly things are changing. Paperwork is getting harder and harder, and as the unemployment rate in the country soars to 11% (2.5 million people) — the highest in Europe — Spain’s latest plan is to decrease this rate by creating more jobs for nationals, paying immigrant laborers on temporary contracts to go back to their countries, and making the visa process for new immigrants difficult.
Of course this has caused much debate. Immigrants in Spain — mainly from Africa and Latin America — comprise a large percentage of the labor workforce in the country, doing many jobs that Spaniards refuse to do and at very low wages. According to this podcast, about 88,000 immigrants were hired this year on temporary contracts to do back breaking work nationals will not do; them leaving is not a solution to decrease unemployment in the country.

It’s interesting how Spain’s economic downturn has turned the tables on immigrants who were considered valuable resources till about a year ago. According to a report in Business Week, in the last decade, despite the fact that Spain absorbed about 3 million immigrants from all over, it was the best performing economy in Europe and the rate of unemployment plummeted. In event, much of this success was attributed to the influx of immigrants. Now in crisis, Spain is plotting against the very people who aided it’s growth over the years.

In my opinion, Spain used to be one of the easiest countries to immigrate to, especially illegally — irrespective of nationality — whether you are Eastern European, Asian, African, or American. That, and the general “Mediterranean good life” drew in hoards of people. I know a handful of Americans who came to Spain on holiday and just stayed. None of them have paperwork and all of them will probably sort themselves out under amnesty. I, although not a student, have somehow managed to maintain a student visa for almost 3 years now, and have been working without a contract. Trying to be legit and get a “real” job just seems waste of an effort in this country.

All said and done, once you are sorted in some way, you can live quite a good quality of life. Spain has that charm. The government created this environment over years and, although with hiccups, it generally worked for both the country and foreigners choosing to reside there. Now unfortunately, for lack of a better plan, everything seems to be taking a U-turn.