Sunday, September 28, 2008

Rethinking Hospitality: Spain’s Burgeoning Immigration Problem In the Wake of Financial Crisis

Sources: Financial Times- Migrants to Spain Find Welcome Mat Withdrawn; New York Times- Spain, Like U.S., Grapples With Immigration

For over 20 years, Spain has permitted a constant flow of migrant workers to openly participate in its labor force, much to the objection of many other EU countries. With open EU borders, Northern European states such as France, Germany, and the Netherlands have worried about the impact of Spain’s immigration policies on their own unemployment rates. Spain has run 6 legalization programs since 1987. Italy and Spain together account for an estimated two thirds of the undocumented immigrants in the EU. Spain offers free health care, including free hospital care and treatments such as dialysis for diabetes, and public schools to both documented and undocumented immigrants. These social services alone could be enough to draw some migrants from developing countries. The Spanish government has asserted that promoting inclusivity deters political protests, desperation, and consequential terrorism, and that such social order should be prioritized over economic motives, not to mention the income tax revenue Spain collects from registered immigrants.

Historically, both socialist and conservative parties in Spain have supported a quick path to legalization for immigrants. When the EU economy skyrocketed in 2001, Spain’s relatively lax attitude served it well; a substantial senior citizen population meant that labor needed to be outsourced and immigrants quickly filled that void. In 2003, Spain even created a policy to give legal status and documentation to those migrants that had already acquired legitimate work. Two thirds of the applicants came from five countries: Ecuador, Romania, Morocco, Colombia and Bolivia. Immigration grew by 30% that year (not accounting for undocumented migrants already living in Spain who registered after the policy was announced), as opposed to the previous rate of 3%. Yet, it all seemed to be working, as Spain still had fewer clashes than other immigrant-heavy countries such as the U.S.

And then came global economic crisis.

Unemployment among immigrants has skyrocketed 40% in recent months, with a 14.7% unemployment rate for foreigners versus an 8.7% rate for native Spaniards. In fact, immigration was a contingent issue in this year’s election for the first time in decades. With the lull in the construction boom and cuts in the tourism industry, many newly-arrived immigrants cannot find the work they were expecting. Violence has begun to escalate, as demonstrated by the rioting and consequential stabbing of a Senegalese man in southern Spain earlier this month. The Labour and Immigration Minister further fueled controversy when he declared that visas for migrant workers would be stopped completely during the coming year. To discourage further immigration, Spain has even enacted a plan to pay jobless migrants unemployment compensation in advance, on the condition that they return to their home country and promise to stay away for at least 3 years. Experts predict about 10,000 of the 165,000 legal immigrant residents, most of whom are from Ecuador and Morocco, to take advantage of the policy. The hospitality that has made Spain a haven for immigrants will undoubtedly need to be further adjusted in light of global financial crisis.

Discussion Questions
1. Do you think financial crisis will lessen or increase migration from developing countries to the United States and Europe?
2. Economic crisis aside, do you agree with Spain’s philosophy that inclusive immigration policies deter crime and terrorism?

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