Spain opens its doors ajar by modifying the immigration law

Again, in May the alert went off. This time it happened in Costa Bravaone of the most desirable tourist destinations in Spain. Desperate because they had clients, but no employees to attend to them, dozens of small businessmen in the hospitality industry were willing to limit their opening hours to the public to a minimum. And even some threatened to lower the shutters of their bars and restaurants indefinitely.

The situation is not new. Perhaps for this reason, the government of the socialist Pedro Sanchez had the urgent need to make strong reforms to the Immigration Lawas promised in mid-2020. The changes, adopted by the Council of Ministers, were considered “measures of great depth” by the head of Social Security, Jose Luis Escriva. According to him, they have the objective of propitiating “an orderly and safe regular migration”.

The restructuring has several fronts. The first recognizes an undeniable migratory fact: that of thousands of people who came to the Peninsula as tourists but with the intention of staying. Today they are part of the country’s labor force, although in a hidden way, without the minimum guarantees of a legal contract. Now, the reform seems to offer them the possibility of obtaining residence and work permits, preferably in trades that are in greater demand and for which they must reach specialization levels through special courses.

In this way the Government hopes to achieve several simultaneous results. On one side, Spain wants to legalize the stay of many people who live at the mercy of all kinds of abuse perpetrated by unscrupulous employers who pay them black money, that is, under the table, without offering them any legal guarantee. And from the other, it expects the income from the entry of that population into the legal economic circuit, in a three-way policy that may also represent higher rates of security and control by the authorities.

The amendment also covers students from abroad. According to official figures, in the Spanish University System (SUE) in 2019 there were 208,366 foreign enrolled in higher education. From now on, the new regulations will allow them to work up to 30 hours a week, 75% of the 40 that contemplate the maximum limit of the laws of that nation. In reality, not a few had been doing it, but subject to arbitrariness and persecution.

And the renewed law is also aimed at the seasonal population, already settled in Spanish territory, which tthey work in the fields during the harvests and traditionally come from Africa and Latin America, in that order. In 2020 alone, with the effects of the pandemic alive, the country urgently required 80,000 of them. Now the law facilitates their entry and also their exit, given that theirs is not permanent. Thus, they may be linked by a contract that allows them to work nine months per year. It will be, in principle, a commitment to four years, extendable to eight.

But the rule goes beyond legalizing immigrants already settled in the country. It also seeks to attract at least three groups of people who have not necessarily resided in Spanish territory. One made up of those who want to qualify for what is called Occupations of Difficult Coverage, an item that will be adjusted quarterly to market requirements. Another has to do with facilitate family reunification, which extends this spectrum beyond the closest circle, to people with disabilities or in a situation of vulnerability. and a third that invites entrepreneurs interested in creating a companyincluding digital nomads, for which they must submit a business plan for approval that includes investments, not necessarily large.

Behind all this, according to Escrivá’s ministry, the norm aims to “improve the Spanish migration model and its procedures, in many cases slow and inadequate, which generates prolonged periods of irregularity, with high social and economic costs”. But why does Spain decide now to open a door that for a long time it kept almost closed, while in reality the country became a destination for men and women willing to face the condition of being without papers?

On that, there are several needs that coincide and force Madrid to give that twist, we find in this analysis of CONNECTAS. One, the evident lack of labor in important sectors of the Spanish economy —such as that giant of the hotel industry—, to which are added others of great proportions: agribusiness and construction and services in general, including those related to the digital area.

In this urgency, that of having foreign workers, Spain is not alone. On the contrary, we speak of a global trend. In the United States alone, the so-called ‘Great Resignation’, the voluntary decision of millions of people who left their jobs, already reaches 3% of its working population. The element in common with the Spanish is that the casualties in the giant of the north due to the hotel industry reach 6.9% of the grand total.

And in Europe, the bells still call those who could come from afar to lend a hand. Germany recognizes its bad moment: “We are running out of qualified workers and it will be much more dramatic in the coming years,” said recently the head of the Federal Employment Agency, Detlef Scheele, who recognized the need for 400 thousand new workers for, for example, nursing and logistics. With the same purpose, Portugal has put into effect what is considered the laxest immigration policy in the Old Continent. For its part, the United Kingdom knows that, if it does not soon have enough truckers and butchers, just to name two specialties, it will have to deal with more difficulties than the brake of the world economy already leaves it.

However, in the Spanish case, a question surrounds not a few citizens: is it valid to import workers when unemployment (unemployment) was around 13.5 percent in April? The answers go through the post-pandemic and its effects on the markets and on the companies themselves, to which is added a new, more urban generation, with its consequences of vacancies in agricultural activity in a country with more and more ghost towns. Perhaps things would change if, as the Second Vice President and Minister of Labor, Yolanda Díaz, says, “companies paid employees more, offered them better working conditions and gave them more reasons to work.”

According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), today there are 119,212 vacancies, which is little or nothing when considering the true needs calculated for the period 2018 – 2030: no less than 9.2 million new positions. Although it must also be said that in the future 50% of these jobs may end up automated, as stated by the Spanish Confederation of Small and Medium Industry.

Nor is it true that immigrants, and particularly Latin Americans, displace locals from jobs in big cities, as a study by the General Union of Workers, Spain’s main union, has shown.

And on the other hand, the modifications to the Immigration Law seem tailor-made for those same Latin Americans, more as a consequence of profitable experiences than of a simple bet. In short, for the Spanish is better an old acquaintance than who knows who to knowwithout forgetting the contribution of other cultures and communities.

After all, Latin Americans built a good part of the Spain of the boom that preceded the crisis at the end of the first decade of the century. And with that same migration from Latin America came a rebound in the birth rate, with women who, in addition, made a presence in the labor field, an almost restricted space for them during the Franco regime, an inheritance that lasted for years.

To this we must add the millionaire contributions of several generations to social security and the ever-increasing investment of powerful Latin American economic groups. And one more element involved: the common language. To this is added that the rich exchange of cultures and knowledge has been fluid. Today, there is an immense colony of many more than one and a half million migrants led by Colombia with 291,000, Ecuador with 123,000; Venezuela with 200,000; Honduras with 130,000 and Peru with 111,000. This contingent of Spanish-speakers with strong cultural ties coexists with more than a million Moroccans and citizens of other North African countries who live in Spain.

However, the reform is not to everyone’s liking. Trade union sectors point out, for example, that the text hides what they call “institutional racism” with which, they say, the Government intends to alleviate the lack of labor in very precarious labor sectors with migrants in extreme situations.

Cristina, Colombian and an administrator by profession, arrived in Spain in 2000 as a tourist, stayed to live as she intended, and after great efforts managed to get ahead. She told CONNECTAS, from a small town near the Mediterranean where she lives with her partner, that this new stage that is coming has a clear objective. “It is about getting people to do unskilled tasks that almost always require significant physical effort, those for which the majority of Spaniards are not willing, many of whom have gone to seek opportunities in other countries. That cannot be denied, but it has its good side because it regularizes many irregular or undocumented people, not the illegal ones, as it is mistakenly said. In this way they improve their living conditions, sometimes very difficult in their countries of origin”.

Without ignoring these facts, the Sánchez government defends the new faces of the law. María Jesús Montero, the Minister of the Treasury, says that what she is looking for is “…to strike a balance between effectively people who come to our country do so under the conditions of a work contract that is ordered and that, on the other hand, On the other hand, we can meet the needs of the labor market, which at this time there are difficulties in supplying”. Balance that must be “fully compatible with the dignity of the conditions of (Spanish) workers”.

What comes next is the landing of the new norm, with the fears of the case. It will then be seen how much there is of the intention to the reality. In between are the warnings that the Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, made at the time, when a few months ago he warned of the possible incursion of mafias that intend to take advantage of a new immigrant market, and of the arrival of an avalanche of requests. And the objections of businessmen from the countryside who consider that the modifications “only address minor issues and leave aside the real problems of the immigrant worker (…) small modifications that do not solve the necessary adaptation to the labor reform”, as Andrés Góngora said of the Coordinator of Farmers and Ranchers Organizations (COAG)

Likewise, we must know how to measure the scope of the reform. In other words, as the lawyer Vicente Marín, an expert in immigration law and Spanish nationality, says on his YouTube channel, the reform “is not about massive regularization.” but rather of an individual and casuistic nature. According to Marín, “it is a regulatory change aimed at favoring the incorporation of foreign workers in certain sectors where they are necessary.” So, it is clear that the door that Spain kept poorly closed is now ajar. Yes, not wide open.

Every week, the Latin American journalism platform CONNECTAS publishes analyzes of current events in the Americas. If you are interested in reading more information like this, you can go to this link.

* Member of the editorial board of CONNECTAS


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