By Albaro X. Tutasig
Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR
A 2013 study by the National Statistics Institute revealed that Spain’s population dropped by almost 200,000 to 47.1 million, a decline driven mostly by foreigners. What were some of the factors that contributed to this decline, and what are the projected trends that the future may hold?
Before there was a trend of foreign-born residents leaving Spain, the European country was once the ideal developed country to settle in, especially for Latin American immigrants. Researchers predicted the Spanish country to be among the top immigrant destinations in all of Europe. As stated by Adela Pellegrino in her article, “Migration from Latin America to Europe: Trends and policy challenges”: “Spain is particularly relevant in that, in recent years, it has become the main destination of Latin American emigration to Europe.”
What drove Latin American migration to Spain?
First, like most pull-push factors that have driven many immigrants to move to other, more developed regions of the world, the waves of Latin American immigration that crossed the Atlantic to reach Spain did so to attain a more prosperous future. Spain in the late 1990s was a Spain that was rapidly growing economically. While economic crisis, political instability, and increasing poverty in many Latin American countries created incentives to migrate, these conditions were especially true for immigrants from Ecuador and Colombia.
Secondly, colonial ties and shared cultural backgrounds, including language, made transition for Latin American immigrants into Spain easier. Compared to other Latin American immigrants’ destinations, such as the United States, Spain always had a much more lenient immigration policy. Especially following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, American politics became extremely polarized, going so far as to link anti-terrorism and anti-immigration legislation. In other words, many American politicians are pushing for legislation to make crossing of the border virtually impossible and, as a consequence, creating a stigma attached to undocumented immigrants, labeling them as potential terrorists.
Finally, aside from economic and cultural reasons, Spain granted privileged legal status to Latin Americans. Simply put, Latin American immigrants enjoyed far more favorable legal treatment than they would have in other countries. For instance, Spain’s Civil Code allows nationals of Latin America to acquire Spanish nationally after only two years of legal residence in Spain. Because this privilege is granted on a cultural basis, this kind of nationality grant also applies to Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea and Portugal, as well as to Sephardic Jews. Spain also allows dual nationality, meaning nationals from Latin American countries are not obligated to renounce their original nationality to apply for Spanish nationality.
But to no avail. The world financial crisis was a devastating blow to the economies of various countries, including Spain.
What was once a dream, so desired by many, became a nightmare for those already residing on Spanish soil. The 2008 economic crisis in Spain is said to have been linked to the failure of the construction sector, an employer that had very high labor participation rates. Immigrants made up a significant percentage of construction workers, and in losing their jobs they lost a central incentive for remaining in the country.
A significant portion of the people returning to their countries of origin are from Ecuadorian and Colombian descent. In addition to the crisis in Spain, this return trend may be attributed to economic recovery of Colombia and Ecuador. Finally, the Spanish government has developed numerous programs to help encourage people to return to their countries of origin, including free transatlantic flights and seed money to start small businesses when they returned home.
A continuation of ‘Latin-Americanization’?
Nevertheless, there are still indicators that demonstrate a continuous flow of Latin American immigrants to Spain. Since the early 2000s, there have been greater diversifications in the immigration flows to Spain. Populations from Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and the Dominican Republic have risen, most of them for the same reasons their previous South American counterparts migrated — they are seeking a better and more prosperous life.