Spain: Immigrants Welcome

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Spains says, Immigrants Welcome:

Over the past decade, the traditionally homogeneous country has become a sort of open-door laboratory on immigration. Spain has absorbed more than 3 million foreigners from places as diverse as Romania, Morocco, and South America. More than 11% of the country’s 44 million residents are now foreign-born, one of the highest proportions in Europe. With hundreds of thousands more arriving each year, Spain could soon reach the U.S. rate of 12.9%.

And it doesn’t seem to have hurt much. Spain is Europe’s best-performing major economy, with growth averaging 3.1% over the past five years. Since 2002, the country has created half the new jobs in the euro zone. Unemployment has plummeted from more than 20% in the 1990s to 8.6%, within shooting distance of the 7.2% euro zone average. The government attributes more than half this stellar performance to immigration. “We are very thankful for all these people who have come here to work with us,” says Javier Vallés, economic policy chief for Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero.
For now, Spain is keeping the welcome mat out. Besides providing muscle for construction, immigrants care for children and the elderly, allowing more Spanish women to take jobs outside the home. They do backbreaking agricultural labor and take minimum-wage positions in restaurants and hotels. “Spanish workers don’t want these jobs,” says Marta Martín, who has recruited immigrant employees for the Madrid-based hotel chain NH Hoteles. And the government says immigrants’ tax and social security contributions exceed by more than 20% the cost of public services they use.
To fill jobs, Spain looked abroad. Immigration rose from 57,000 in 1998 to more than 600,000 for each of the past two years. The biggest influx, about 800,000 since the mid-1990s, came from Ecuador, followed by Morocco and Romania. Spain, unlike France and Germany, places no restrictions on immigration from the EU’s new members in the old Soviet Bloc. Many from other countries arrived under the radar: An estimated 25% to 35% of the current immigrant population is illegal. But Spain has been generous with amnesty, granting legal status since 2000 to more than 1 million who could prove that they were employed.

[Insert your own Mexican immigration joke here.]

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