The future of immigration in Spain

3rd February 2004, Comments 0 comments

Spain's decision to offer the most liberal amnesty to immigrants in Europe has provoked more concern over the future for migration to Spain. Critics say it is opening the flood-gates, while supporters claim the government is confronting one of t

It is claimed that by 2015, one in three Spaniards will be a foreigner

One commentator recently forecast that by 2015, one in every three Spaniards will be a foreigner.

This startling prediction gives an idea of the number of people moving to Spain.

It also helps to explain, perhaps, why this is such a political hot potato.

There are currently 3.69 million foreigners living in the country – or about 8.4 percent of the estimated 44 million population.

The National Statistics Institute said last month 650,000 had registered with the authorities since January 2004.

By contrast, in 1999, only 750,000 foreigners were registered with the authorities resided in Spain.

Change in attitude

So the decision of the Socialist government to offer legal status 700,000 more immigrants who could prove they had a work contract and had live in the country for more than six months, has proved controversial.

Immigration minister Consuelo Rumi last week said the changes will allow the government to bring under control the huge 'black economy' in which many illegal immigrants work.

At least a quarter of the entire Spanish economy is thought to be 'submerged' or undeclared to the taxman.

Opposition critics claim it will put Spain out of step with the rest of Europe and is a sign of how "lost" the Socialist govenment is in terms of dealing with immigration.

But supporters say to bring these people into the system and harness an estimated EUR 1.5 billion in social security payments is vital.

With a falling birth rate, Spain desperately needs the cash which these immigrants bring to the system; without it the country faces a future deficit and no way to pay for its ageing population. 

But how will the proverbial man-in-the-street react as Spain apparently opens its doors to those arriving, principally from Africa and South America?

Racism is undeniably on the rise and tensions are visible.

Residents of one area of Madrid, Villaverde, went on the rampage last week after the murder of a local man allegedly by a Dominican immigrant.

Shops owned by immigrants were attacked and Latin Americans and Africans chased in the street.

The European Observatory against Racism, based in Vienna, said Spanish intolerance towards immigrants has hardened and they are increasingly associated with crime and terrorism.

*quote1*As Jaime Mayor Oreja, the former minister of the interior, put it: "Immigration is problem number one for Spain during the next decade."

SOS Racismo, which campaigns for immigrants, said there are at least 400 websites linked to right wing groups in Spain.

Indeed, Begona Sanchez, of SOS Racismo, thinks the government did not go far enough.

"It is only a stop-gap measure. We will have the same problem in a year's time if contracts are not renewed," she says.

It is not the first time these tensions have surfaced.

Just over five years ago, in January 2000, two immigrants, one Palestinian and one African, were held responsible for two appalling murders in El Ejido, near Almeria, in southern Spain.

In response, local people went on what one newspaper called "an orgy of racist vandalism".

After the riot in Almeria, former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar was seen by many Spaniards to act firmly.

His government embarked on the first of a series of controversial changes to legislation relating to foreigners, cracking down on illegal immigrants.

In January 2001, the government marked a clearer distinction between legal and illegal immigrants with a change to the law.

*quote2*"The government had to change the law, but they're killing flies with cannon balls," said immigration lawyer Fernando Olivan at the time.

In a further reform, thousands of Ecuadorians – who are the biggest nationality among fo

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