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Migration at a Time of Global Economic Crisis: The Situation in Spain

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International Migration

Published online on


In this paper, we offer an initial assessment of the impact of the economic crisis on Spain's migration flows. After a period of intensive economic growth and the ensuing immigratory appeal (1995–2007), Spain has been hit hard by the recession. This has modified the trends that had so far characterized foreign immigration in Spain. The impact of the economic recession has been particularly severe in the case of immigrant workers and, consequently, from an institutional point of view, the Spanish government has adopted various measures to restrict the arrival of new immigrants: it has reduced work permit quotas and it has modified the Foreign Residents Law, toughening residence permit requirements. It has also tried to encourage voluntary returns with a programme devised to provide assistance to immigrants originating from countries with which Spain has social security agreements. The response to this programme has, however, been very limited. Immigration flows have continued and rates of return have stayed low, although new trends are also detectable, such as a decrease in the number of irregular arrivals and a rise in informal employment, as well as differences in the impact of unemployment according to nationality and gender. This reveals the complexity of migration processes beyond the supply and demand of labour and the political will to regulate human mobility. Consequently, immigration patterns in Spain reveal the degree of complexity reached by human mobility, which has increased beyond the logic of the labour market and the government's attempts at regulating migration flows by means of institutional measures. The immigrants' hope of raising their standard of living and the socio‐economic differences between source and receiving countries, even at a time of severe economic crisis, do still serve as explanations for current migration networks, one of the key points in the current debate on international migration.