Huge rise in expats in Spain but unemployment could see numbers slowing

by Ray Clancy on February 16, 2010

The number of expats living in Spain has increased more than sixfold in the last decade with emigrants nows making up 12% of the population, according to the latest figures.

Some 5.6 million non Spaniards were registered as living in the country last year, a huge increase of more than 400,000 on 2008, the figures from the National Statistics Institute show.

Emigration helped the population reach 46.7 million in 2009, up from 40.5 million in 2000 during a time when the country had only 924,000 emigrants officially registered.

The figures show just how popular Spain has become for expats. At the start of the 1990’s, the population was made up almost entirely of Spaniards. Emigrants accounted for less than 1% of the population.

However, over the past decade, the country has seen a huge influx from emigrants from all over the globe. But most expats come from European countries or north Africa and South America. Some 40% are from other EU countries, notably Romania, with 759,000 registered, and the UK, with 356,000. Another 1.6 million came from South America and 902,000 from Africa, more than two-thirds of those from Morocco.

And expats are not just people moving to Spain to retire. According to Joaquín Arango Vila-Belda, professor of sociology at the University of Madrid, emigrants have occupied half of the jobs created in Spain between 2000 and 2008.

He beleives that many emigrants have arrived due to the availability of new jobs in Spain compared to other places in the world. There were some five million jobs created in Spain between 2000 and 2008. Many of these jobs in construction, health care and hospitality have been popular with emigrants, he added.

It is being predicted that the increase in emigrants will continue and could reach 20% of the population by 2025. But profgessor Vila-Belda also pointed out that high unemployment could put people off coming to live in Spain.

Immigration has also become a topic of political debate in recent weeks as Spain’s economic crisis has deepened. Last month Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, the leader of the People’s Party in Catalonia, called for stricter limits on immigration the town hall in Vic, 45 miles north of Barcelona, sparked outrage by attempting to ban illegal immigrants from the municipal register.

The move would have prevented illegal immigrants from claiming health care and education. Unions say 43% of Vic’s unemployed are foreigners, while around a quarter of residents are foreigners.

The controversial proposal in Vic, and a similar one in the Madrid suburb of Torrejón de Ardoz, were both dropped after receiving widespread publicity.

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