Exceptional in Europe? Spain's Experience with Immigration and Integration
The report examines why Spain, one of the countries hit hardest by the economic crisis with some of Europe’s highest levels of unemployment, has not seen a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. It describes how the government and general populace have responded to immigration before and after the onset of the economic crisis, highlights possible reasons for Spain’s exceptional openness, and speculates whether Spain’s relative egalitarianism can persist into the foreseeable future.
The report characterizes immigration policies in Spain as generally open, committed to integration, and more concerned with enlarging avenues for legal immigration rather than limiting flows. Remarkably, such liberal immigration policies appear to have remained in force even after the economic crisis. Furthermore, the report finds that no major social disruptions have been reported since the onset of the crisis and politicization of immigration has not significantly increased. It links the overall lack of anti-immigration discourse to three key factors: a widespread belief among the Spanish public that immigration has been positive to economic growth; Spain’s political culture that employs immigration as a vehicle for expressing democratic values; and the relatively low visibility of immigrants, which make them less of a perceived threat to national identity.
The report concludes, however, that attitudes and policies toward immigration and integration in Spain are likely to take a turn in the direction of the rest of Europe in the near future. Qualitative surveys suggest that high levels of joblessness seem to be eroding the belief among Spanish citizens that the labor market needs immigrant workers. The recent landslide general election victory of the conservative Popular Party also point to a possible shift in the orientation of immigration policy, from one centered on integration to one focused on national security. However, the author speculates that resistance from both opposition parties and civil-society groups will limit the Popular Party’s ability to push restrictionist policies to the fore.
II. The Facts: Spain, a Peculiar Case?
A. Before the Crisis
B. Under the Spell of the Crisis
C. The Case of Catalonia
III. Searching for an Explanation: Some Possible Clues
A. Immigrant Demographics and Labor Force Participation
B. Political Culture
C. National Identity