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08MADRID373 2008-03-31 06:49:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Madrid
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1. (U) Summary. According to several Spanish sources, Spain
in recent years has received the second largest number of
immigrants in the world after the U.S. During Spain's
construction boom, this labor influx proved to be an
important asset. However, as Spain's economy slows, and
unemployment levels increase, more and more Spaniards are
giving voice to concerns about immigration and what they
believe are its potential negative effects on the economy.
The March 9 election campaigns drew on this concern, with
immigration becoming a major theme. As the economy continues
to soften, this is an issue that will gain in prominence for
the average Spaniard. End Summary


Immigration Boom


2. (U) Over the past 10 years, Spain experienced an
immigration boom, opening its doors to what is now 5 million
immigrants or a little over 10 percent of Spain's population.
The immigrant community is comprised primarily of those from
Morocco, Romania and Latin America (Ecuador, Colombia, and
Peru). The growth in the past three years has been even more
striking with Ministry of Labor statistics showing that 3.2
million immigrants took part in Spain's labor market in 2007
compared with 500,000 in 2004. Local experts point to
Spain's geographical position as the door to Europe, its
generous social safety net policies (legal and illegal
immigrants have full access to public health care and
education), and its more lenient immigration policy as
factors behind this heavy increase. Zapatero's decision to
provide amnesty to 600,000-700,000 illegal immigrants in 2005
is also credited with encouraging immigration.

3. (U) The sudden availability of inexpensive labor proved to
be a boon for Spain during its housing construction high
point. The influx of immigrants fueled a sector which at one
point represented 18% of GDP. According to INE statistics,
99% of the construction employment generated in the Madrid
region was held by immigrants. The influx also propped up
Spain's population growth in the face of a fertility rate
below the replacement level. In late 2006, the GOS reported
that immigration had sparked a 40 percent growth in Spain's
economy between 2000 and 2006. Of the 687,500 new jobs
created in 2006, two-thirds were filled by immigrants.





4. (U) Spain's residential construction boom reached its end
in the summer of 2007, affecting the sector in which up to a
quarter of all immigrants are employed. Overall unemployment
increased to 2.3 million in February 2008 according to the
Ministry of Labor, pushing the unemployment rate to somewhere
between 8.6 and 8.8 percent, up from 8 percent in the third
quarter of 2007. Unemployment estimates for immigrant
workers vary, but the Ministry of Labor and the National
Statistics Institute's labor market survey agree that
immigrant worker unemployment increased 24 percent in 2007
from the year before and represents 11% of total
unemployment. Media reports have drawn attention to this
growing problem, highlighting the increasing number of
immigrants on Spain's unemployment rolls. According to
recent State Public Employment Service (formerly INEM,
National Institute of Employment) statistics there was a
sixty percent increase in unemployment payments to immigrants
in January compared with a year before.

5. (U) In prior years, public opinion has been favorable
towards immigration. According to polls taken a year ago,
Spain had the highest favorable opinion of immigration of all
Western European nations (ref A). However, the fear that a
continued inflow of immigrants will exacerbate the
unemployment situation is made real by recent Ministry of
Labor statistics. According to these statistics, Spain is
still experiencing job growth, but the increasing number of
entrants into the labor market (mostly immigrants) is greater
than the market can sustain - resulting in higher levels of
unemployment overall.

6. (U) These concerns were highlighted during the election

MADRID 00000373 002.2 OF 002

campaigns this past March (ref B). Opposition Partido
Popular presidential candidate Mariano Rajoy proposed a hard
line plan against immigration - including facilitating the
return to their country of origin of those immigrants not
finding employment within a month, and requiring immigrants
to learn Spanish "customs". This plan struck a chord with
many Spaniards.

7. (U) Although President Zapatero's campaign position was to
highlight the value of diversity and immigrants to Spain, his
electoral plan nonetheless was geared towards tightening
Spain's borders against illegal immigration. PSOE's
"Programa Electoral" of 2008 included a four-year plan to
improve border control, bolster the effectiveness of the
Guardia Civil and National Police against illegal immigrants,
improve cooperation between Spain, the EU institutions, and
the immigrant countries of origin or transit countries, and
strengthen the process for deporting illegal immigrants.

8. (U) The government has also been looking at ways to
address increasing levels of unemployment. The GOS recently
announced efforts to work with labor unions and business
associations to develop employment stimulus measures,
particularly for lower-skilled workers. These measures would
include incentives to spur training in an effort to increase
skill-set levels. These efforts are in the planning stages,
and it remains to be seen what effect, if any, they will have
on immigrant workers. In recent conversations, Ministry of
Labor officials have agreed that immigrant laborers generally
possess few skills which are difficult to transfer to other
areas should job loss occur.




9. (U) Immigration is a fairly recent phenomenon for Spain,
and the country has changed rapidly from a homogenous country
to a country with a significant level of diversity. We may
not see any drastic immigration policy changes during the
current administration. However, any increase in
unemployment in the upcoming months will continue to push the
theme to the political forefront.