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April 2007, Volume 14, Number 2

Spain: Migrants, Canaries, Economy

Spain, a country of 44.4 million, had 4.6 million foreign residents in January 2006, including 580,000 Moroccans, 396,000 Ecuadorians, 373,000 Romanians, and 260,000 Colombians; the number of foreigners registered rose by 414,000 in 2006. Spain removed 99,445 foreigners in 2006, most from Morocco, Senegal and Romania.

The influx of migrants, including 645,000 in 2004, has generally been welcomed, as rapid economic growth has created jobs for newcomers, especially in construction and agriculture. Marta Rodriguez-Tarduchy, the labor ministry's immigration director, said "The global migration phenomenon is unstoppable... We measure what the labor market needs and can sustain.... [and] We figured the best way so they [migrants] are not resented."

Spain does not require visas from nationals of many South American countries, prompting increasing numbers of Ecuadorians, Colombians, and Bolivians to fly to Spain as tourists and go to work. Many women work as caregivers, registering with local authorities to qualify for health care. After two years as a caregiver and one year as a regular worker, Latin Americans can unify their families in Spain, and many do: applications for family reunification rose from 312 in 2000 to 75,000 in 2005.

Spain is investing E2.6 billion to help immigrants to feel they are "part of Spain" between 2007 and 2010. About 40 percent of the funds will go to education, 20 percent to welcome immigrants, and 11 percent for jobs programs. On January 19, 2007, there were clashes between Spanish and immigrant youth in Alcorcon, a Madrid suburb with 160,000 residents, including 21,000 from Latin America.

Cartaya, a city of 18,000 in a strawberry-growing area, received E1.2 million to develop a circular migration guest worker program with Morocco. However, fewer than half of the guest workers returned as required, which prompted a change in the rules- only mothers with children could participate. About 5,500 of the 26,000 who applied were selected for the March-June 2007 strawberry picking season, and those who depart will be guaranteed the right to return in 2008.

In July 2006, Spain and Morocco agreed on a four-year plan to tackle illegal immigration in Europe. The keystone is a repatriation agreement that allows apprehended foreigners to be returned. Morocco has deployed 11,000 security personnel to monitor its coast lines, which has resulted in a 40 percent drop the number of illegal migrants reaching Spain in 2006. Frontex, the Polish-based EU border security force, is helping Spain, Italy and Malta to monitor their borders.

Canary Islands. Migrants continue to leave West Africa for Spain's Canary Islands 850 miles away. A least 36,000 left in 2006, including many young Senegalese men; an estimated 6,000 did not survive the 1,000-mile trip on overcrowded fishing boats, and 31,000 reached the Canaries.

The foreign ministers of Spain and Senegal signed an agreement in January 2007 that commits Spain to opening an office for the recruitment of legal migrants and Senegal to crack down on smuggling from its beaches. The first 75 migrants with one-year work visas left for Spain in January 2007.

In April 2007, it was reported that 1,500 migrants arrived in the Canaries during the first three months of 2007, down from 3,200 in the same period of 2006.

Economy. Immigrants are believed responsible for more than half of Spain's 3.1 percent average annual growth during the past five years. Gross domestic product was up 3.9 percent in 2006, second only to France; in Italy and Germany, by contrast, economies expanded by just over one percent a year in the past six years. Spain's recent economic growth has been based on four sectors: construction, housing, banking and tourism.

However, the minimum wage is low: E571 a month ($750), and many professionals begin at E1,000 a month. About a third of workers, and almost all new hires, are employed under short-term contracts, often of three months, which may make it hard to advance within a firm, according to Marta Garcia Aller, author of "The Precarious Generation."

Migrants in Spain remit an estimated E5 billion a year, with 75 percent going to their countries of origin via "locutorios," shops that offer cheap calls and money transfers. The locutorios charge five to seven percent of the amount transferred, compared to 10 percent for banks, and have an 85 percent market share. In a bid to obtain more business from migrants, Banco Santander in 2007 began to offer remittance transfers at no charge. Some Spanish stores are allowing migrants to select merchandise and have it delivered in Ecuador or Peru.

Tracy Wilkinson, "Siesta's over for Spain's economy," Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2007. Cecile Chambraud, "Spain is the new world," Guardian, February 23, 2007. "Madrid invests EUR2 bn to help migrants integrate," Expatica News, February 19, 2007.