Cross Posted at: http://iberosphere.com/2012/04/spain-news-6031/6031
Sitting across the table from Xavier Alonso Calderón, Catalonia’s Head of the Immigration and Labour Relations, it was hard not to feel for everyone within a hundred paces of his office. In one of many sweeping cuts to government spending since coming into office late last year, the Partido Popular-led government had targeted Spain’s immigration and integration fund to nearly nothing. Established under the Zapatero government in 2005, the fund had set aside up to 200 million euros to be distributed to Spain’s autonomous communities to help fund programs aimed at reporting, educating and integrating the country’s foreign born population – a group that had exploded over the past decade, accounting for over 16 percent of the 44 million national population.
In immigrant-heavy communities like Catalonia, the funds had paid for Calderón’s department and their efforts to draft a new, sweeping Law of Reception, outlining the responsibilities of officials at every level of the foreign-born communities and establishing a reporting system that would be used for all those applying for permanent residence. While the reports would be non-binding on the national level, they would help normalize education and outreach efforts and get the community more involved in the integration process.
Nearly two years on since our first conversation, the law had been passed and over 26,000 reports had been filed since the program was put into place in June of last year, all completed by Calderón’s team of 26. This week, Calderón faced a decidedly different set of circumstances. With the national fund reduced to next to nothing, the department would be cut in half, leaving a baker’s dozen to do what is being asked of more and more across Spain these days – do more with less.
While this is hardly a novel concept in light of Spain’s current budget woes, it does signal a new and rather absolute approach to the country’s foreign-born population – if you want to stay, its not going to be easy.
It’s hardly a new concept that in times of economic woe, a country’s foreign-born populations stand to suffer, but Spain and especially immigrant-heavy communities like Catalonia may provide exceptional cases. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Spain’s immigrant population began to grow on the back the country’s real estate boom, attracting mostly low-skilled workers to Spain. Those arriving found steady supply of vacancies left behind by a near simultaneous spike young Spaniards seeking college degrees. The population continued to grow throughout the 90s and naughts, peaking in early 2007. Tied as it was the country’s economic expansion, the influx of foreign-born workers and their families ebbed a bit as the economy slowed from 2008 on. The numbers from several countries, especially Morocco and Latin America began to fade as revere migration took hold and economic development grew in other places. However, a mix of momentum and the global nature of the economic crisis kept people coming. While the flow from countries like Argentina may have leveled or decreased, the economy in places like Pakistan have not proven to be enough of a pull to make much of a dent in Catalonia’s nearly 40,000 residents that hail from there.
Readily accepted and welcome for much of the period of Spain’s growth, these groups increasingly became political fodder during recent elections, with local and national parties making cautious forays into immigrant-targeted rhetoric during campaigns. One conservative candidate in Catalan elections showed up in an immigrant-heavy suburb of Barcelona with citizenship contracts shortly before regional elections. While Spain’s foreign-born population has so far escaped the kind of direct attacks by political figures in Italy, the Netherlands, Greece and France, the election season and dour economic outlook has left them on the defensive as they look to the next few months.
This feeling was compounded by the PP’s reduction of the national fund, a move that will likely result in far-fewer opportunities for education and integration among Catalonia’s foreign-born communities. Calderón stopped short of suggesting that the reduction of the national fund, or even the total cut in medical care available to “irregulars” last week, were motivated by anything more than budget constraints, but he did allow that the ideology of the current leadership both on the community and national level made it clear that funding would not likely come back soon. In practice, this reduction is going to mean fewer workers to implement Catalonia’s integration law and less overall support for those in search of the requirements needed to qualify for residency.
Still, Calderón remained upbeat despite the coming months. “We just have to be more efficient,” he said, adding that there were still options for offsetting some of the lost fund from EU funds. Echoing the sentiment of more and more state workers now faced with a sudden absence of funding and support across Spain, Calderón looked at the challenges ahead and simply said, “We have to do it, we have no choice.”