In Spain, immigration is a contentious subject amongst the Spanish. This is not surprising given the staggering numbers of immigrants who have come to Spain over the past ten years. In fact, the raw statistics about Spanish immigration make stunning reading (see Controversies of Spanish Culture, above).
In 2000 there were 923,879 immigrants in Spain – in 2009, 5,658,671. That is a 511.40% increase in nine years!
As the registered population of Spain in 2009 was around 46,661,000, it means that registered immigrants in Spain account for some 12% of the population.
Of course, there will be a variation between official figures and reality, as some immigrants in Spain will be unregistered. So, the true numbers for immigrants in Spain will doubtless be considerably greater than those shown by Spanish government figures.
Interestingly, the 12% increase in the population of Spain by Spanish immigrants is not spread evenly across the whole of Spain. Coastal areas and big cities have attracted most of the immigrants. This is where most of the economic activity of Spain occurs and therefore where there have been the best chances of employment.
An example of the distortion can be seen from the closest town to me, my beloved Gandia.
In 2000 Gandia had 1,446 registered immigrants and in 2009 20,595 – an astonishing 1,324.30% increase. Indeed, immigrants in Gandia make up a phenomenal 26% of the town’s population!
The ‘problem’, of course, is that the vast majority of immigrants in Spain are not wealthy North Europeans bringing considerable money into Spain. Indeed, most immigration in Spain is the result of people coming from poor east European countries and Latin America. These people were ‘welcomed’ during the boom as a cheap workforce that helped power the construction industry, whilst releasing native Spaniards from the brutal labour of the agricultural industry.
However, the ‘poor’ immigrants in Spain are now no longer greatly welcomed. The collapse of the Spanish economy has meant that they are competing directly with the native Spanish for the few jobs available. Indeed, with Spanish unemployment at over 20%, it takes little to imagine the potential for ill-feeling – particularly as many immigrants will often work for far less than native Spaniards.
The trouble is that immigration in Spain is a complex subject that goes well beyond the ‘here and now’. Not the least of the complexities is that Spain has had a ‘dying’ population for some time now. Native Spanish replacement rates have been (and still are) inadequate to support the future demands of the state for income to pay for pensions and the health infrastructure of an ageing population.
So, like it or not, Spain has needed to encourage immigration.
Ironically (and I write this as a North European immigrant), many non-north European immigrants in Spain integrate far quicker into Spanish life than North Europeans. Latin Americans invariably speak Spanish already and the speed of Europeans from the old Eastern bloc to learn Spanish fluently is nothing less than awesome! Meanwhile, they live amongst the Spanish and fast become an intrinsic part of day to day life.
On the other hand, North European immigrants in Spain tend to reside in up-market ‘ghettos’ from which they live almost entirely separate lives from the Spanish. They rarely learn any Spanish, take little or no interest in Spanish culture and rarely integrate in any meaningful way.
That is not to say that North Europeans are unwelcome. Far from it. The Spanish know full well the economic benefits of wealth coming in from Northern Europe and tend to feel comfortable with the inherent culture of North Europeans.
Neeedless to say, the longer the Spanish economy remains in trouble (with high Spanish unemployment), the more contentious the issue about immigration in Spain will become for native Spaniards.
Certainly, it is hard to avoid the conclusion, regardless of other merits, that far too many immigrants were allowed to come into Spain, far too quickly. Spain’s ‘open door’ policy of allowing all, and any, immigrants into Spain – may end up as a source of some regret and no little friction.
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