The facts on Spanish immigration

Rafael Puyol. Professor. IE Business School

28 November 2006

Newspapers carry stories every day on the growing inflow of immigrants into Spain, raising concerns over the country’s ability to absorb the new arrivals. But a lot of what we hear about immigration is myth.

The growing concern about immigration
Bitter political debates and constant media coverage have turned immigration into one of the most controversial issues in Spain, according to surveys. Citizens are increasingly interested in immigration and many have expressed concern about its growth. Indeed, negative feelings against immigrants are on the rise, feeding attitudes such as discrimination and rejection. .

But are citizens sufficiently and correctly informed about immigration? My opinion is that they are not. Most people have incomplete information that is often tainted by stereotypes, myths and prejudices. The following ten points do not claim to be a full list of concerns about immigration, but rather they seek to provide a brief description of the key issues facing the foreign population living in our country.

Debunking the myths
1)How many foreigners are there? According to the municipal census of 1 January 2006, there are 3.88 million, which represents 8.7% of the country´s total population (44.4 million people).

2)Is a foreigner the same as an immigrant? No. Being a foreigner is a legal-administrative condition. It applies to anyone living in Spain who is not of Spanish nationality and has been born either in our country or elsewhere. However, immigrants are individuals who have come to Spain from other countries. They either keep their nationality or end up acquiring Spanish nationality. Consequently, there are more immigrants (4.3 million) than foreigners (3.8).

3)How many of them are illegal? It is not easy to know for certain. Furthermore, there is much debate between PSOE and PP on how to calculate the number. If we deduct the foreigners who, on 31/12/2005, held residence permits (2.7 million) from those included in the census at 01/01/2006 (3.8 million), the total number of illegal immigrants would total 1,184,600. The PSOE argues there are approximately only 700,000 because more than 300,000 do not need a residence permit; they are students, political refugees, seasonal workers, cross-border workers, etc. The PP says the figure exceeds 1.6 million because it adds the almost 500,000 foreigners who are not recognized by the INE because they have failed to renew their registration in the census.
The real figure is probably closer to the PP’s estimate than to the PSOE’s. But whatever the case, the debate points to illegality as a basic feature of immigration in Spain. It also highlights the failure of the different governments to combat it.

4)What role does immigration play in population growth? It is decisive. Between 1998 and 2005, the population living in Spain increased by more than 4.2 million persons, 3.1 million of whom were foreigners (an increase of 73%). All the autonomous regions have benefited from immigration. In one case (Asturias), the internal population has been falling at a slower rate thanks to immigration. In others (Aragón, Castilla y León, Extremadura, Galicia and the Basque Country), the downward trend in population growth has been reversed. And in most regions, immigration has helped balance the population growth.

5)Where are these immigrants from? Most come from Latin America, some come from Europe and Africa and a few others come from the East. Spain, which was historically a melting pot for ethnic groups, civilisations and cultures, seems to be recovering this role in a more modest but ethnically colourful way. One African country (Morocco), four Latin American countries (Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia) and five European countries (Rumania and Bulgaria, on the one hand, and the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy, on the other) are the top 10 countries with the most foreigners in Spain. While there are more than 100 nationalities residing in Spain, allowing for some diversity, the majority of foreigners (64%) are represented by the above-mentioned 10 countries.

6)What is the breakdown of immigration by gender and age?
In general, the foreign population is made up of more males (53.4%) than females (46.6%), but this varies widely depending on nationality. For example: immigrants from Morocco and other African territories are overwhelmingly male. However, immigrants from Latin America include many more women. European immigration is balanced and some of the new groups that are immigrating more and more-- such as from China, Romania and Bulgaria--- are much more male dominated. By age, the structure of the foreign population is younger than the Spanish population, with a greater number of adults immigrating (50% aged between 20 and 40 years) and very few older people, which explains why they are more easily employable. However, the fact that foreigners are younger does little to halt the significant ageing of the Spanish population, where almost 18% are over the age of 65. Indeed, the Spanish population is ranked as one of the oldest in the world. This is not good news for the future of the Spanish economy.

7)How does the immigrant population affect the country’s marriage and birth statistics? The number of marriages involving a foreign spouse has increased to about 30,000--or 14% of the total in 2005. Similarly the number of children born to a foreign mother has increased to almost 70,000, more than 15% of all births in the same year. What is more, the death rate is very low because the population is so youthful. However, the annual comparative growth rates of these demographics have fallen as a result of the mass arrival of immigrants in recent years. In addition, their "influence" on the country´s general values is not considered very high, at the moment.

8)Do foreigners take jobs away from Spaniards? No, except for in very specific situations that are not relevant in statistical terms. Indeed, the truth is quite the opposite. They actually fill a void within the market by doing jobs that Spaniards don’t want. They also provide labour when there aren’t enough Spaniards to fill the job openings in sectors such as construction, farming, general services, domestic services and care for the elderly or other dependent individuals. They also are beginning to work in other sectors suffering increasingly from shortages of Spanish workers. In short, immigration has helped even out the demand for labour in a market characterised by a high level of structural unemployment.

9)What is the economic balance of their presence? The immigrant population has made a significant contribution to GDP growth. There has been an increase in tax collection and revenues, mainly through the social security system. Immigrants contribute more than they consume in terms of services (healthcare, unemployment, etc.). In some sectors, they helped moderate wage inflation, although their impact on increasing productivity has been limited.

Defining the future

10)How will immigration evolve in the future?
This question is difficult, as nobody knows how many immigrants will stay for good and how many will come in the future. Evidence indicates a growing number would like to stay. For example, the number of nationalisations, marriages, births, purchases of homes and other consumer goods by immigrants are on the rise, but calculating the number of current foreigners, nationalised or otherwise, who plan to stay for a long time is not really possible.
And the same happens with estimating the number of new arrivals in the future. However the INE has ventured to make some forecasts. If the number of estimated future arrivals is combined with the number of immigrants who are already here, the total immigration population for 2025 is expected to range between 6.3 million and 9.6 million people. Are these numbers correct? And if they are, will it be possible to assume the corresponding economic costs? These are difficult questions to answer.

What is true is that given the nature of Spanish demographics, the country will need a continued inflow of immigrants in coming years. Consequently, we face some complicated questions. For example: how many immigrants are necessary to fill the population void? Where and how can they enter legally? From which countries should they come? And how will we facilitate their integration? These are just a few of the many issues that need to be addressed through a genuine consensus on immigration policy—one that includes clear rules and a single direction. This policy will require a continual and ongoing collaboration between the central and regional governments. It also calls for firm agreements between employers, unions and suppliers. More resources must also be devoted to controlling entry to Spain, as well as to returning clandestine immigrants and helping those who are here legally to integrate more easily.


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