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September 2000, Volume 7, Number 9

Spain: Immigration Law

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's center-right Popular Party, which holds 183 of the 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies, approved legislation in August 2000 that tightens immigration laws approved in December 1999.

The December 1999 immigration law, according to the Popular Party, was making Spain a destination for illegal immigrants because it offered them K-12 education and medical care on the same basis as Spaniards, as well as political rights such as the right to hold demonstrations and join unions. The Spanish government, in seeking to amend the law, said "no country in the world … offers such rights" to unauthorized migrants, and noted that 6,958 foreigners were apprehended trying to enter southern Spain in the first seven months of 2000, compared to 5,492 in all of 1999.

Under the proposal, which is likely to become law, all persons in Spain would continue to be eligible for emergency medical care, and all children would be entitled to K-12 education, but illegal migrants would not have the right to associate, demonstrate, join a union or go on strike.

The Spanish government received over 224,959 requests by the July 31, 2000 deadline to regularize the residency of illegal migrants--double the government's estimate of the number of eligible unauthorized foreigners. Of the 101,517 applications processed between March and July 2000, 85,526 foreigners received visas, an acceptance rate of 84 percent. The largest number of unauthorized foreigners are Moroccans, followed by Ecuadorians; there are reportedly 400,000 foreigners enrolled in Spain's national health care plan, one percent of Spanish residents.

Many Moroccans work as farm laborers in southern Spain. Almeria produced 2.6 million tons of vegetables in 1998, and exported 1.4 million tons worth $921 million. During the summer months, when there are fewer jobs, Spaniards complain of increased shoplifting.

Non-Moroccans apprehended in Spain are normally allowed to remain until their identity and nationality are determined; Moroccans are returned. Many African countries refuse to confirm persons detained as their citizens, so that, after several years in Spain, some of the non-Moroccans can apply for legal status.

There are 20,000 Chinese legally living in Spain, but there are believed to be many more, as evidenced by proliferating Chinatowns in major cities. One way that Chinese arrive in Spain is by flying to Belgrade, which has at least 40,000 Chinese, and then traveling overland to Spain; the Chinatowns provide restaurant and other jobs that permit the migrants to repay their smugglers. Most of the Chinese migrants emigrate from Fujian, which is believed to send 100,000 migrants abroad every year.

Border Control. In the first eight months of 2000, over 6,000 foreigners were apprehended after landing in southern Spain, more than in all of 1999.

The Spanish police is installing a $150 million electronic warning system to form a 350-mile "electronic wall" to repel illegal immigrants from Africa. The Integrated Electronic Surveillance System, known by its Spanish acronym as Sive, will combine radar, infrared sensors and night sights to provide a blanket watch over a stretch of coastline from Huelva in southwest Spain, to Almeria in the southeast.

The land-based, high-resolution radar, based on the M-2226 radar technology developed by Israel to stop night raids by seaborne terrorist units, will be the first to detect the boats' arrival, picking them up seven miles from the coast. When the radar, developed to pick out the low hulls of speedboats and the slower fishing boats used by the traffickers, has detected the approaching vessel, it will trigger powerful, land-based infrared cameras.

These cameras, according to Spanish police, will be powerful enough to determine the numbers of passengers on the boats. The radar and cameras will then lock on to the vessel and jointly track it until it is intercepted. The Civil Guard's fast patrol boats will then speed out to meet the craft, forcing them to turn around.

Giles Tremlett, "Spain sets migrant radar trap," The Times, August 18, 2000. Al Goodman, "Seas wash up a dilemma in Spain," CNN, August 17, 2000. Rory Carroll, "Tourist beaches of Spain marks the end of a nightmare journey for desperate refugees," Daily Record, August 15, 2000. Alicia Fraerman, "Spain: Gov't move to stem immigration unrealistic," Inter Press Service, August 9, 2000. Nicolas Marmie, "Moroccan workers in Spain help those left behind in North Africa," AP, August 6, 2000. "Spanish cabinet approves tough new immigration bill," Associated Press, August 4, 2000. "Spain gives visas to more than 85,000 immigrants in five months," Agence France Presse, August 2, 2000. "Mysterious Chinese immigrants baffle the Spaniards," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, July 30, 2000. "Foreign minister in Spain seeks special arrangements for illegal immigrants," Radio 1, July 31, 2000.