Unemployed Immigrants Struggle as Hard-Pressed Spain Rolls Up Welcome Mat
New York Times
December 10, 2008
Spain created more jobs and drew more immigrants than any other country in Europe in the past decade, largely because of a construction boom. As the economy shrinks, employers are disgorging workers at an alarming rate — unemployment soared to more than 11 percent in the third quarter — and immigrants in low-skilled jobs have been hit hardest.
The once permissive Spanish government is rolling up the welcome mat, even encouraging immigrants to return home in exchange for lump-sum welfare payments. During its economic boom, Spain epitomized Europe’s hunger for low-cost labor. But now, it could become a laboratory for the strains that emerge when those workers are unemployed, yet stay put.
Spain has not yet suffered the outbursts of xenophobia heard in places like Italy, and Spaniards say their own years as a nation of émigrés help them sympathize...
But hospitality may wear thin. Spain’s unemployment rate is now the highest in the European Union, up from 8 percent at the end of 2007. Among immigrants, unemployment is estimated at 17 percent. About five million immigrants are registered as living in Spain, a country of 46 million, with Moroccans, Romanians and Ecuadoreans topping the list.
... Many [immigrants] said life had become a grinding trail of employment centers, soup kitchens and local charities. Some are months behind on rent or mortgage payments and have racked up debts a month...
...The authorities have cracked down on businesses that employ undocumented workers, and immigrants say plainclothes police officers prowl commuter trains, arresting those without papers. Prime Minister José Rodríguez Zapatero has said he supports the European Union’s tough Return Directive, which would allow illegal migrants to be held for as long as 18 months...
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