Jobless immigrants in Spain agree to return home

14th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Roughly 1,400 unemployed immigrants have taken advantage of a Spanish programme to compensatate them if they return to their country of origin, Labour Minister Celestino Corbacho said Wednesday.

MADRID - When the scheme came into effect at the end of November, the government estimated that up to 100,000 people would qualify and between 15 to 20 percent would apply for the compensation.

The number, however, was in line with the "government's expectations," the minister told radio Onda Cero. Media reports have put the average compensation sum at around 15,000 euros (20,000 dollars).

The minister said the programme should not be seen as "an exit so that all unemployed immigrants leave but instead it should be seen as an opportunity for those tho have lost their jobs to return to countries which are in experiencing economic growth."

Under the plan an immigrant qualifies for two lump-sum payments if they return to their native country and give up their right to live and work in Spain for at least three years.

After that period they can apply to return to Spain although they are not guaranteed readmission.

To qualify an unemployed immigrant must be from one of 19 countries outside the European Union with which Spain has a reciprocal social security agreement and be living in Spain legally.

Spain is facing its first recession in 15 years as an abrupt slowdown in the building sector caused by oversupply, higher interest rates and the international credit crisis spread to other areas, driving up unemployment.

The jobless rate hit 13.4 percent in November, the highest level in the 27-nation European Union, according to EU statistics agency Eurostat.

In media interviews immigrants cite a reluctance to give up their hard-won right to work in Spain and financial commitments such as mortgages as reasons for not applying for the programme.

Many also say they would be embarrassed to return home with little to show for their time in Spain.

The number of immigrants in Spain shot up from 500,000 people in 1996 to 5.2 million currently, including 2.2 million from outside the EU, out of a total population of 46 million.

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