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Migration myths: The truth about immigration in Spain

The rapid expansion of the European Union eastward seems to have been one of the many factors that persuaded the public in France and The Netherlands to reject the EU Constitution in referendums in May and June.



Pateras, or small boatas, used by thousands of immigrants to get to Spain

Indeed, conscious of concerns cheap labour would flood their local jobs markets, most established EU member states introduced restrictions on labour mobility prior to the ‘big bang’ in May 2004 when 10 Eastern and Central European states joined the EU.

This is hardly surprising: Europe is already host to over 55 million of the estimated 192 million people the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says are living as migrants in the world.

In Spain the number of foreigners has increased five-fold since 1999 and immigrants now make up over eight percent of the country’s total population of 44 million, according latest census figures.

The Right

Jean-Marie le Pen’s Front National in France, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang and smaller parties in Spain linked to the late dictator General Francisco Franco, have for years played up what they say are the negatives associated with migrants.

More mainstream parties have increasingly moved towards the need to control migration as they see concerns about the issue rising among the electorate.

*sidebar1*Coastguards and naval patrols boarding boat-loads of would-be immigrants from north Africa is a daily occurrence of the Spanish coast or the Canary Islands. Many who avoid the authorities end up falling victim to leaky boats, called ‘pateras’ or unscrupulous human traffickers.

Since the meteoric rise and  followed by the murder of anti-immigration populist Pim Fortuyn, the Dutch government has considerably toughened migration laws in the Netherlands and decided future immigrants will have to undertake special courses to help them integrate into Dutch society.


But the overriding perception of migration as a problem and nothing more is misleading, according to the World Migration 2005 report by the International Organisation for Migration.

The IOM says the first ever comprehensive benefits study of international migration provides ample evidence that migration brings both costs and benefits for sending and receiving countries, “even if these are not always shared equally”.

“We are living in an increasingly globalised world which can no longer depend on domestic labour markets alone. This is the reality that has to be managed,” IOM director Brunson McKinley says.

World Migration 2005, for instance, cites a Home Office study in the UK which revealed migrants there contribute the equivalent of more than USD 4 billion (EUR 3.3 billion) more in taxes than they receive in benefits.



Statistics don’t support fear of migrating hordes

And in the US, the National Research Council estimated that national income expanded by USD 8 billion (EUR 6.6 billion) in 1997 because of immigration.

IOM’s study also noted that there is rarely direct competition in a wide variety of jobs between immigrants and locals. Migrants occupy jobs at all skills levels but with a particular concentration at the higher or lower ends of the market, “often in work that nationals are either unable or unwilling to take”.

The report also talks about the better-known benefits for sending countries. Remittances by immigrants through official channels surpassed USD 100 billion in 2004, and now seriously rival development aid in many countries, the IOM found.

Morocco, for instance, received USD 2.87 billion, or 8 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), from remittances by migrant workers in 2002. Moroccans are the largest immigrant group in Spain. Remittances to the Philippines came to almost 10 percent of its GDP.

Some sending countries are seeing a shift from brain drain to brain gain as a result of incre