To take a deeper look at the impact of the crisis on immigration in Spain, euronews spoke to Antoni Segura, a contemporary history professor at the University of Barcelona.
euronews: In September, Spain’s immigrant population went down for the first time in 13 years. What’s your explanation?
Antoni Segura: The decline has a lot to do with the current economic crisis, since that is also seriously affecting the Spanish government. Of course there has been a rapid rise in unemployment over just a few years, and the weakest sectors of the labour market, which is to say immigrants, have been the first to lose their jobs. Obviously, if there isn’t any work, a lot of people look for alternatives: either going to another country or back to their country of origin.
euronews: Another immigration aspect concerns students. They can’t find work either. Or, work offered them is under-paid in relation to their qualifications. Do you think the crisis is triggering a brain drain?
Segura: There’s no doubt about it. On top of that, it’s particularly serious. The country makes a major investment which is never recouped, because young people, unable to find suitable employment related to their field, have to seek elsewhere. It amounts to a lost investment.
euronews: Apart from which party will govern after the general elections, what policies have to be worked on to moderate these phenomena?
Segura: We should promote policies that guarantee that young people will be able to find a job in Spain and to develop their future careers in their own country. Otherwise it is absurd to keep investing, if they are just going to leave and go abroad. As for immigration, the market is more volatile. The most important thing is to regulate labour laws and the workplace so that immigrants don’t find themselves powerless or subject to abuse by unscrupulous employers, and above all to make laws for this or keep a much closer watch over all the companies that don’t meet the legal obligations or are outright against the law.
euronews: Spain has the highest jobless rate in the whole of the European Union, with nearly five million people unemployed. What is the explanation for the absence of social unrest so far?
Segura: There are dark areas in the Spanish economy, and when I say this I mean an important part of it is underground. This is how people manage to make ends meet: by doing work that stays out of any account books, and doesn’t figure in the statistics. Because of this I think the 20% unemployment figure should be put in proportion somewhat. It is also clear that social policy promoted by the government at the moment, especially during its first term, gives a level of coverage that allows people to survive on unemployment benefits for a while. But it’s also true that those run out, and obviously if the situation continues I don’t rule out that there will be social tensions.