The Spanish government plans to offer unemployed immigrants advance payment of their benefits if they return to their countries of origin—and agree to stay there for at least three years.
The Spanish labour ministry said 100,000 immigrants from 19 countries would be eligible to receive the payout but it expects only between 10% and 20% to agree to this trade-off. The government is expected to approve the plan in September.
Spain’s immigrant population has swelled to roughly 10% of the population in the past decade as builders and developers offered seemingly endless work opportunities. But with the international economy flagging and Spain’s construction boom going bust, the immigrants are expected to be among the hardest hit.
Immigrants’ rights groups have reacted coolly to the scheme. “We are talking not just about workers but about human beings,” Alvaro Zuleta, president of the Colombian group Aculco, said. “We need to make sure that the immigrant who agrees to return finds the right conditions to restart his life.” However, he expected some Colombian immigrants, who earn between €750 and €1,500 (£595 to £1,190) a month, to agree to the deal if the economic crisis worsened.
Raul Jiménez, a spokesman for the Ecuadorian association Rumiñahui, told El País newspaper: “It’s unfair. Just a short while ago, we were hearing that Spain needed foreign labour; it seems contradictory to propose that the crisis will be solved by reducing it.”
As many as 165,000 immigrants from outside the EU are unemployed, but not all would be eligible for the deal because their home countries do not have reciprocal agreements with Spain.
Unemployed workers receive about 70% of their salary for the first six months without a job, then up to 60% for up to two years. Under the proposed deal, workers would receive 40% of that money while in Spain and 60% on arrival in their home countries. They would then have priority in obtaining working papers if they reapplied to return to Spain after five years.