Migrants, Multiculture

Spanish migrants: without rights

As many as 200,000 Spaniards are thought to have migrated to the UK in the past year. However, falling migrant wages and the issue’s total absence from Spanish public policy has put many migrants in a vulnerable position.

Inés Giménez

The majority of migrants registered in the United Kingdom at present come from countries such as India, China, Poland and the United States.

However, over the past two years, other nationalities have become increasingly prevalent, including the Spanish. This phenomenon is only now being reflected in statistics as it is a recent trend and also because the Spanish do not require any form of visa.

In September 2011, the British government reported that, according to figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions, the number of Spanish nationals newly signing up to the British social security system went up by 85% over the previous fiscal year. According to these statistics, as well as other published reports, it was shown that some 24,370 Spanish nationals joined the British labour market over the course of that year.

Across the media there is a clear perception that this figure had continued to rise exponentially. For example, The Guardian recently reported that the Spanish Embassy in London registered some 70,000 new Spanish nationals in the first 4 months of 2012, a figure which may only represent around a fifth of the real total.

More immigration, lower wages

An increase in Spanish immigration into the UK is undeniable, however the treatment the subject receives across the media varies greatly depending on the political persuasion of the publication concerned.

More conservative elements of the press put the emphasis in statements like the one made, in May of this year, by Home Secretary Theresa May who was quoted as saying “restricting visas to migrants from Southern Europe has been considered”. However, more progressive publications have picked up on studies, such as the one recently carried out by the London School of Economics, highlighting the fall in income amongst the migrant community.

In the study, entitled “Immigration and the UK Labour Market”, the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance reports that in 1995 around 8% of the UK’ workforce were foreign immigrants, a figure which has risen to 14.5% in 2012.

Despite this, the report goes on to show that for the majority of the migrant community incomes have fallen sharply since the beginning of the recession in 2009 and now equal levels in 1999. The study also underlines the high level of education attained by many new immigrants and the relatively menial nature of the jobs they do.

The migrant labour force is concentrated mainly in the manufacturing, hotel and catering and transport sectors, followed by health, education and construction. Care work, which is by and large less regulated in nature and less visible, can also be added to this list.

The invisible economy

It has been reported in the Spanish press that, faced with 52% youth unemployment, migration represents, quite literally, a physical escape route. There has also be a proliferation of infomercials whose key message seems to present a utopian idea of “migrating is a great opportunity for young people to see the world and learn”.

However, while there is clear evidence of migration within the host nations and in the press, the Spanish government is choosing to render it invisible.

This migratory phenomenon does not appear to warrant inclusion in public policy, either in the government’s economic planning, or in official reports. The cheapest option is simply to ignore it.

Thus, there is no particular help or assistance for Spanish migrants on the official websites of either the Foreign Ministry or the Ministry for Employment and Social Security, aside from addresses for Spanish Consulates and some ‘advice’ for travellers.

What’s more, any help for returning migrants has also been withdrawn, despite the fact that for more than 20 years returning Spanish nationals have had the right to claim basic state benefits after having worked over seas for a minimum of 12 months.

The Spanish government is also denying healthcare benefits to those of its national resident across Europe, something which was previously guaranteed through the European Health Insurance Card, known in Spain at the E-111.

Research scholarships, formerly under the auspices of the Spanish Ministry for Education and of research and development and used to benefit highly qualified young people living abroad, have been slashed in the 2012 budget, to the extent that grants already awarded have been withdrawn and payments to researchers defaulted on. International development cooperation in Spain has also had its budget slashed and in 2012 not a single new vacancy will be created. What’ more, “high ranking” civil servants from the right of Spanish politics have called for the 400 Euro per month unemployment benefit to be stopped for those Spanish nationals who leave the country.

They have also stated that Spanish migrants who continue to claim this benefit would be committing “fraud”.

This policy of denial, disregard and even criminalisation of economic migration is a world away from that exercised by other governments.

Even under the regime of General Franco, when 2 million Spaniards left to work in Germany, Italy and France, migration was regulated via organisations like the Spanish Institute for Migration, and laws like the Emigration Planning Laws of 1960 which brought about the Conventions and Treaties on Emigration and Social Security.

Authentic” Spaniards, and mortgaging the State?

However, these days, Spanish research institutes allied to the government of the Popular Party, such as the Real Instituto Elcano (Royal Elcano Institute) have attempted to minimize the impact of Spanish emigration. Thus, in a report published in January 2012 they stressed that the “presumed” Spanish emigration was actually one “of return”.

The report argues that Spanish emigrants “were not that numerous”, as “of the 373,954 emigrant registered by Spain in 2010, only 26,675 were native Spaniards”. “The majority of the figure represents immigrants nationalised over the past few years in Spain, or those who have benefited from the Law on Historical Memory1 returning to their countries of origin (…) to avoid bearing the brunt of the crisis” the publication states.

The idea that nationalised immigrants are not “authentic Spaniards” and the policy of denial of emigration “by authentic Spaniards” laid out in this article are neither anecdotal nor isolated cases.

They are part of a policy to systematically reduce state support (firstly overseas and then to “nationals”) and dismantle Spain’s welfare state, as happened in Latin America in a decade dubbed “the lost decade”. The “structural adjustments” that resulted in benefits and employment entitlements in Latin America being done away with were just like those being applied today in Spain. Those adjustments resulted in the taking on of foreign debt which essentially mortgaged the state development of an entire continent. But that is a different story.

(Translated by Viv Griffiths)

1 Through which second and third generation descendents of exiles could acquire Spanish nationality.

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