Wednesday, 17 July 2024 21:31

Immigrants look elsewhere as Spain's unemployment rate skyrockets

Monday, 15 December 2014

MALAGA, Spain — In 2000 Yasmina Bencherif moved with her parents from their home in Morocco to La Garriga, a town in the outskirts of Barcelona. She was one of many in that decade to look toward Spain for their future.

"For my father, making it to Spain represented the opportunity to provide a better future to his children, to study and to access a job," she said, adding that finding a job in Europe was "paradise."

The financial crisis changed all of that: Since 2009 the family's income has dwindled. Many of her friends already have returned to their homelands.

When the economy was booming in the early 2000s, Spain took in an average of 700,000 immigrants per year, peaking in 2007 with 1 million. But after the financial crisis hit in 2008, the real estate bubble burst, the economy went into recession, and the Spanish unemployment rate skyrocketed. Currently almost a quarter of the population is out of work — it's more than double that for people under the age of 25.

As a result, fewer foreigners looked to Spain, and increasingly more Spaniards began leaving. The southern European country has now become a net source of emigrants, as its population is shrinking for the first time in 75 years.

"During some years, more than a million immigrants were arriving annually," said Jose Castro, a researcher on migration at the University of Extremadura in Caceres, in eastern Spain. "That's how we went from barely 40 million inhabitants at the end of the 1990s to the 46 million people at the beginning of the crisis."

Ever since 2008, though, the number of immigrants has shrunken steadily, dropping to 342,000 in 2013. On the other hand, emigration has increased at a staggering pace. In 2009 more than 300,000 people left the country, and in 2013 that increased to 547,890, or 1.2 percent of the total population.

Many of those leaving are immigrants themselves, with Ecuadorians and Colombians exiting in the greatest numbers.

"Most of them left because they lost their jobs and couldn't continue payment of their mortgages, couldn't reunite their families in Spain or simply because their future plans broke down in pieces," said Isabel Mastrodomenico, a Colombian social worker living in Madrid who decided to stay.

Diego Emir Pinilla, a Colombian financial consultant, left Spain in 2013 after he was let go from his job after 12 years working in Barcelona. When the publishing company he was working for closed down, he decided to move to London.

"It is clear that I couldn't continue my professional career in Spain. It is difficult to find work now, especially if you are an immigrant," said Mr. Pinilla, whose salary was cut by 30 percent before he lost his job.

"Even if I found a good job, I would not be able to make my mortgage payments," he added.

Spaniards are also seeking a brighter future abroad: In 2013 200,000 Spaniards emigrated, according to official statistics. However, Amparo Gonzalez, a researcher at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), says the real number is closer to 700,000, as many people moving to other European countries don't register at the Spanish consulates.

In fact, the average Spanish emigrant is between 30 and 40 years old, has a higher education and speaks at least one foreign language. One is Carmen Ruiz, 38, who moved to London last year, where she hoped to improve her English and become a Spanish teacher. For the moment she is working at a fast-food restaurant, but for her, it is better than Malaga.

"If I was still in Spain, I would face stiff competition and most likely fall into depression if I didn't arrive depressed already," she said.

Now, for the first time since the Civil War in the 1930s, Spain has a negative demographic balance — currently a quarter of a million fewer inhabitants than in 2013. It is the fastest-shrinking country in Europe, a development that analysts say is a troubling indicator for the future of the country.

According to a report released in September by the Spanish national bank, the emigration of Spaniards "can have a significant (dampening) effect on the potential growth of the Spanish economy."

The report recommends that the government adopt measures in the job market that encourage those who left after the crisis to return.

Spain has entered a period of uncertainty, according to Ms. Gonzalez, who added it is difficult to foresee the consequences in the near term.

"It all depends on how many come back and when," she said.

The problem is, it might not be so easy to stop more young Spaniards from leaving.

"Young Spaniards are a troubled generation," said Jose Pablo Ferrandiz, a sociologist at Metroscopia, a social research company in Madrid. "About 76 percent of Spaniards think there aren't any future prospects for them [here]."

The Washington Times

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