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Spain: Forging an Immigration Policy
By Nieves Ortega Pérez
Universidad de Granada
Haga clic para leer el artículo en español.
Immigration became part of the Spanish government's agenda in 1985, but it was
not until the mid-1990s that it became a matter of vital importance to
political elites and in the eyes of the public. The sharp increase in the
number of foreign residents in the last years, the recent polemical debate
surrounding the reform the immigration law, the establishment of a political
immigration framework known as the Plan Greco, and the shortcomings of the 2002
labor quota program have made immigration one of the most hotly contested
issues in the media, and the second most important "national" issue for
Spaniards after terrorism.
In the period 1850-1950, 3.5 million Spanish, mainly temporary workers, left
for the Americas from three areas: Galicia, Asturias, and the Canary Islands.
Argentina received more than 1.5 million of these emigrants, and others went to
Uruguay, Brazil, and Cuba. Spanish emigration to North Africa, though less well
known, also took place from areas such as Murcia and the Balareas Islands.
Algeria was the chosen destination of 94,000 Spanish emigrants in the last
years of the 19th century. This flow shifted to Morocco after the establishment
of the Spanish protectorate there in the period 1916-1919. During that period,
some 85,000 Spaniards were counted, a number that rose to 250,000 when taking
into account the residents of Cueta, Malilla and Tanger.
Spain's migration flows in the 20th century changed radically in two different
ways. First, the destinations of Spanish emigrants shifted dramatically. In the
course of the century, some six million Spaniards left their country of origin,
and until the 1930s, 80 percent chose to go to the Americas. From the 1950s to
the mid-1970s, however, 74 percent chose the countries of Northern Europe.
Second, in the last third of the 20th century, Spain evolved from its
traditional role as a sending country and, increasingly, a transit country for
migrants headed north. Spain became a receiving country for foreign laborers,
mostly from Northern Africa and Latin America, and for well-to-do immigrants
from other EU countries, such as retirees.
The inversion of Spanish migration flows was brought about by the international
economic crisis of the early 1970s. While the number of emigrants fell, the
number of immigrants continued to increase at a steady pace. From 1961 to
1974, at the height of the guest worker programs in Europe, about 100,000
people emigrated each year. Since then, the numbers indicate that Spain's
period of high emigration has ended, with total departures falling off from
20,000 per year to just over 2,000 annually in recent years.
Spain's development into a country of immigration was part of a larger regional
phenomenon. In the late 1980s, in the midst of economic crisis and the
accompanying high unemployment, Mediterranean countries of Europe such as
Spain, Portugal, and Italy, hitherto "way stations" or "waiting rooms" became
receiving countries. This change was brought about by several factors,
including the end of guest worker programs, the closing of the borders of
traditional receiving countries, such as Germany, Switzerland, and France, the
political evolution from authoritarian regimes, their proximity to the sending
countries in the Maghreb, and the intense historical and economic bonds between
both shores of the Mediterranean. Other contributing factors include the poor
performance of the labor markets in the sending countries, the extent of the
underground economy in the European countries (that relied on illegal
immigration), and the admission of Portugal, Spain, and Greece into the
European Community in the course of the 1980s made them "gateway" countries as
well as frontline states on Europe's southernmost border.
Characteristics of Immigrants
The number of foreign residents in Spain increased significantly in the last
quarter century. From 1975 to 1985, the increase was a moderate average of 2.2
percent annually. From 1985 to 1991 (which included the enactment of the Ley de
Extranjería, the national immigration law, and the first extraordinary
regularization process) the foreign population rose an average of seven percent
annually. As of 1992, this figure had climbed to 10 percent annually. From
1992 to 2000, the numbers of people from developing countries increased 214
percent annually, much higher than the 60 percent increase in the number of
foreigners from industrialized nations.
As the 2001 data show, the countries of origin of resident foreigners have
shifted significantly in a short time. Moroccans and Ecuadorans have become
the two largest nationalities, even as immigration from other EU countries
continues to account for a large share of the total.
Table 1: Evolution of the
foreign residents 1995-2000 by continent of origin
Source: Anuario de Extranjería 2000, Ministry of
|Stateless and others
Even in the mid-1990s, half of all resident foreigners were European (Table 1).
Of this percentage, the largest groups were from EU member countries: the
United Kingdom (23 percent); Germany (17 percent); and Portugal (12 percent),
whereas immigrants from Eastern Europe accounted for only four percent.
Africans accounted for 19 percent, most than three fourths of them Moroccans.
The latter group has seen the largest and most sustained increase over the last
25 years, to the point of becoming the most numerous foreign nationality in
Spain at this time.
People from the Americas also saw their numbers grow at a constant pace, as
they came to account for about 21 percent of all foreigners. Traditional
groups such as Argentines, Venezuelans, and Chileans decreased as a relative
share of the Latin American population, while others such as Peruvians,
Dominicans, and Cubans saw their numbers grow more quickly. In absolute terms,
there were few people from North America (United States, Canada, and Mexico) or
Oceania. The relative share of the population of Asian origin diminished.
More recently, the proportion of Europeans among all foreign residents declined
to 40.4 percent in 2000, and the African proportion increased to 29 percent.
The difference between the number of Europeans and Africans, the two largest
foreign communities, has diminished not because fewer Europeans have arrived,
but because the African population has increased much more rapidly. The number
of European immigrants increased 105,735 from 1995 to 2000, surpassing even the
population increase for Latin Americans, which was 91,033. At the same time,
there was an increase of 165,660 in the number of Africans. People from the
Americas accounted for 22 percent of the total, Asians eight percent, and
persons from Oceania an almost invisible 0.1 percent. The remainder of those
counted were stateless people.
Table 2: Foreign
population in Spain
Source: Balance 2001 from the Delegación
del Gobierno para la Extranjería y la Inmigración, (DGEI), Ministry
The latest official figures are provided the Delegación de Gobierno para
la Extranjería y la Inmigracíon. The advantage of these numbers
is that they were tallied subsequent to the last special regularization effort,
which means they include a large part of the undocumented immigrant population.
Spain's undocumented population is estimated to be over 200,000.
In 2001, resident foreigners in Spain accounted for 2.5 percent of the total
population, and saw one of the largest annual increases in their numbers (23.81
percent) in recent years (Table 2). The biggest communities of resident
foreigners were Moroccans (234,937), Ecuadorians (84,699), the British
(80,183), Germans (62,506), Colombians (48,710), French (44,798), and
Portuguese (42,634). These figures reflect the increasing size of the
traditional Moroccan community, as well as the trend of increased immigration
from Latin America. The fact that neither of the top two nationalities was an
EU country, as had been the case just five years ago, brings Spain more in line
with the tradition of immigration from third (i.e. non-EU) countries, a
tradition also visible in other European Union countries.
Two points should be noted with respect to the settlement patterns of
foreigners in Spain. First, immigrants have little mobility. By and large,
immigrants tend not to move once they have settled. Second, the regions with
the largest numbers of resident foreigners remained unchanged throughout the
1990s. Specifically, the "Mediterranean Autonomous Communities" of Catalonia,
Valencia, Murcia, and Andalusia, as well as Madrid continue to host the largest
numbers of immigrants.
Labor Force Participation of Immigrants in Spain
While migrants from other countries of the European Union are allowed to work
in Spain, under the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty, workers from non-EU
countries require a work permit, although many immigrants work illegally in
Spain. Legal and unauthorized migrants are playing an increasing role in
Spain's economy. Alongside economic factors, social networks have played a
role in shaping labor market outcomes. Together with the segmentation of the
Spanish labor market and a quota system that recruited workers by sector and
province, these factors make for a visible labor-based stratification by ethnic
group, thus creating labor-market niches.
At the close of 1999, non-EU foreign workers numbered 199,753, representing a
slight increase (1.4 percent) over the previous year. By continent of origin,
Africans comprise the largest group. They account for 50.5 percent (100,768)
of all non EU foreign laborers, the majority (80,441) of which are from
Morocco. The second largest group of workers come from the Americas and
accounted for 29.0 percent of all work permits. Peruvians, Dominicans, and
Ecuadorans dominate this category. Asians account for 28,177 permits. Lastly,
workers from other non-EU European countries, such Poland and Romania, numbered
12,644. Although this group was the smallest group (6.33 percent of the total),
it saw the greatest percentage increase with respect to the previous year (8.94
The service sector captures nearly 59 percent of all work permits for non-EU
workers, followed by the agricultural sector (21 percent). Unlike other
countries where immigrant labor has permeated construction and parts of
industry, these sectors account for only nine and seven percent, respectively.
By group, however, the percentages vary. Accordingly, 86 percent of the Latin
Americans and 89 percent of the Asians are involved in the service sector, 39
percent of the Africans are employed in agriculture, and 15 percent of East
Europeans work in construction.
The numbers of immigrants in the work force vary by province, too, depending on
the leading economic sector. The autonomous communities with the largest number
of workers are Catalonia (53,804), Madrid (48,402), and Andalusia (24,024),
though the largest increases in the last two years have been in Murcia (32.69
percent) and the Canary Islands (22.71 percent).
Forging an Immigration Policy
Spain's first attempt at immigration legislation was under the then Socialist
Party government. With Spain's admission to the European Community scheduled
for 1986, the country was under pressure to conform to EC legislation that
restricted non-EC citizen immigration. In 1985, Spain's first law, the Ley de
Extranjería, or the Law on the Rights and Freedoms of Foreigners in
Spain, approached most immigration as temporary phenomenon, and focused
primarily on control over migrants already in the country. Immigrants were
broadly conceptualized, first and foremost, as workers who required regulation
by the Ministry of Labor.
The focus on control of immigrant access to the labor market hindered family
reunification and proved to be an obstacle to stable residency of the
foreign-born population. New policies required that migrants seek work visas
and residency permits only after any job offer and, further, made it
exceedingly difficult to renew required permits. As a result, many immigrants
ended up in an illegal status In addition, the 1985 law called for employer
sanctions that were weakly enforced.
While the 1985 legislation was more restrictive toward immigration and
extremely weak with regard to immigrant rights, a 1996 amendment to the 1985
law recognized immigration as a structural phenomenon and acknowledged that the
foreigners had a set of subjective rights. These rights included access to
education, equality, legal counsel, and an interpreter when dealing with
authorities. It strengthened the power of the regional governments to protect
the rights of immigrant minors and formally established a quote system for
temporary workers. Finally, the amendment established a permanent resident
category and formally included family reunification within its framework.
Finally, in January 1998, an initiative emerged that tackled the issue of
integration. Supported by three political parties, including Izquierda Unida,
Convergencia I Unió, and Grupo Mixto (but not by the Partido Popular,
which has governed since 1996), the Law on the Rights and Freedoms of
Foreigners in Spain and their Integration (Law 4/2000) was passed and took
force on January 12, 2000. This law is notable for the broad political
consensus that backed it, for its clear focus on integration and the political
and social rights extended to non-EU foreigners, and for its recognition of the
permanent dimension of immigration.
Most importantly, this law marked the transition in Spain from a policies
focused on controlling immigration flows (política de
extranjería) to policies that looked more broadly at immigration and
integration (política de immigración) for Spain. This is not so
much because of the law's acknowledgement of immigrant rights but because of
its conception of immigration as a permanent phenomenon, with political and
administrative instruments devised to regulate it.
The Law 4/2000 on the Rights and Freedoms of Foreigners in Spain and their
Social Integration was widely criticized by the ruling Partido Popular, which
considered it too permissive and not along the more restrictive lines being
promoted by the European Union. The party's parliamentary majority after the
March 2000 elections enabled it to pass Law 8/2000 to amend the previous
legislation. The regulation enacting the law took force in mid-2001, and set
forth a reform agenda for issuing work and residency permits and visas.
Furthermore, in aligning itself with common European policy on immigration and
asylum, the law addressed access and control measures, reflected an effort to
ensure integration of legal immigrants and limit unauthorized immigration, and
paved the way for the signing of cooperation agreements with the main sending
countries to manage inflows from the point of origin.
Spain has signed several bilateral agreements of this kind with Ecuador,
Colombia, Morocco, Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Poland, and Romania. These
agreements, with the exception of the Nigerian agreement on repatriation, are
focused on negotiating administrative formulas for access to Spain and its
labor market. These agreements regulate labor opportunities and, as such,
provide for the communication of employment offers, the assessment of
professional requirements, travel, and reception. They also work to enhance
migrant labor and social rights and the work conditions of the immigrant
workers. In addition, the agreements special provisions for seasonal workers
and the measures to facilitate their return to their home countries.
The Plan Greco
The 2000 law was the starting point for the emergence of the Global Programme
to Regulate and Coordinate Foreign Residents' Affairs and Immigration in Spain.
The so-called Plan Greco is a multiyear initiative initiated in 2001 and
expected to run until 2004. Falling within the Interior Ministry, and
specifically, the Immigration Department, the Plan Greco is designed to address
four key areas:
1. Global, coordinated design of immigration as a desirable phenomenon for
Spain, as a member of the European Union;
2. Integration of foreign residents and their families as active
contributors to the growth of Spain;
3. Admission regulation to ensure peaceful coexistence within Spanish
4. Management of the shelter scheme for refugees and displaced persons.
Based on the territorial organization of the Spanish state, and its political
and administrative decentralization, the Plan Greco acknowledges the vital role
that regional governments will play in integrating the immigrant population.
The 2000 law and the Plan Greco are both explicit in their recognition that it
is the development and implementation of integration policies at the local
level that will have the greatest impact on integration.
In May 2000, a state secretariat, the Delegación de Gobierno para la
Extranjería y la Inmigración, with broad powers was established
under the Ministry of Interior to deal with immigrant issues. The head of the
new secretariat is a leading member of two governmental agencies: the
Inter-Ministerial Commission on Immigration Affairs, which is entrusted with
analyzing government actions that impact the treatment of foreigners,
immigration, and asylum; and the Superior Council on Immigration Policy that
coordinates different levels of government on immigration affairs. The
secretariat's chief also serves on a government immigration oversight body, and
nominates candidates for president of the Forum for the Social Integration of
Immigrants. This concentration of power under the Ministry of the Interior
signals a shift from its former seat in the Labor Ministry.
Extraordinary Regularization Processes
The harsh policies introduced under the 1985 law left large numbers of
immigrants without the proper documentation to reside and work in Spain. As a
result, the government launched a regularization program that ultimately had
little impact, given the distrust that had developed between the government and
immigrants due to the 1985 legislation. Only 23,000 immigrants of 44,000
applications were legalized.
Subsequent extraordinary regularization processes were initiated in 1991. With
the help of immigrant support organizations, more than 110,000 immigrants
applied for legal status. However, after three years, 50 percent of those
immigrants that had legalized their status under the 1991 procedures had fallen
back into an illegal status.
Additional regularization programs have taken place in 1996, 2000, and 2001 to
compensate for ineffective and restrictive admissions policies. These programs
have granted initial residency permits valid for one year, but the limited
duration and the difficulties in renewing such permits has forced many
immigrants back into an back into an irregular status.
A special regularization procedure on grounds of family reunification took
place in 1994. Although the official goal was to unify families, many
unauthorized immigrants with family members legally in Spain used the
opportunity to legalize their status.
Labor Quota System
In addition to regularization programs, and paralleling Spain's work permit
system, the country has experimented with a labor quota system to respond to
short and long-term shortages in the labor market. Quotas have been used in
1993-1995, 1997-1999 and in 2002.
Before 2002, the quota has channelled legal immigration flows to sectors of the
Spanish economy facing a shortage of native workers. The quota system had
another effect: many illegal immigrants viewed it as a way to gain legal status
in the country. Most applications for a position within the quota system came
from undocumented immigrants already in Spain.
In 2002, the quota system was reformed. To ensure continuity and stability,
the government is now required to establish annual quotas for foreign workers.
In particular, before work permits can be granted, the National Employment
Institute (Instituto Nacional de Empleo) must issue a report on the nation's
employment situation. If it determines that there are no unemployed workers
available for open positions, then foreign labor can be considered. Second, in
an effort to reduce illegal immigration, the government now only hires foreign
workers from their countries of origin and through bilateral agreements with
sending countries. Undocumented immigrants in Spain can no longer use this
channel to seek work.
Spain and Asylum Seekers
The Law on the Right to Asylum and Refugee Status, passed in March of 1984, and
amended in 1994, is the main piece of legislation governing refugee status in
Spain. Once an asylum application is filed, asylum seekers have the right to
interpreters, legal counsel and medical assistance. Applicants can stay in
Spain for up to sixty days while their application is pending. Favorable
rulings guaranteed the right to social, health and education welfare and work
permit. Those who are denied asylum must leave Spain, usually within sixty
In 2000, 7,926 asylum applications were filed, and favorable rulings were
handed down in 453 cases, covering 752 individuals. Claimants of the following
nationalities were the most numerous: Colombian (17 percent of the total),
Nigerian (11 percent), Sierra Leonean (19 percent), and Cuban (11 percent).
People of other nationalities seeking asylum were principally from Algeria and
former Eastern bloc countries, such as Armenia, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine.
However, both employers and labor unions agree that the 2002 labour quota was a
failure. While the government set a quota of 32,079 workers (10,884 permanent
workers and 21,195 temporary workers), it was widely viewed of falling short of
meeting labor needs. In particular, some labor unions estimated that another
10,000 workers were necessary in the agricultural sector. In 2003, the quota
has been fixed at 24,337 foreign workers (10,575 permanents workers and 13,762
temporary workers). By reducing the quota for temporary workers by almost
10,000 less than the 2002 number, the government has signalled that it
continues to seek to limit immigration.
Currently, the Law 8/2000 is being challenged before the Constitutional Court
by Partido Socialista Obrero Español. The quota system has also come
under criticism by several immigrant support groups and political parties.
Although the Plan Greco promises to focus on integration and local governments
are developing this issue, it appears that the government will continue to push
forward with an agenda to slow immigration and to focus on border protection.
With a 23 percent increase in immigration in 2002, it is unclear how the
government's policies to limit immigration will square with the new immigration
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