Sunday , May 19 2024

Spain sees US-style economic boost from immigrant workers


MADRID: Achieving her career ambitions in Spain has proved remarkably easy for Sara Hernandez, a systems architect from Venezuela who found her skills were in hot demand when she arrived in Madrid.

Spain may have Europe’s highest unemployment rate but moving to Madrid in 2021 after seven years in Chile, where she worked in less qualified positions in IT, she was surprised how seamless it was to find work.

“This is where I’ve been able to fulfil my goal of becoming a systems architect,” Hernandez, 36, told media.

Spain is also benefiting: immigrants such as Hernandez are a big reason why its economy is outperforming its European peers. She is one of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, chiefly from Latin America, who have come to Spain to plug post-pandemic labor shortages, especially in the tech and restaurant sectors.

Mirroring a similar boon to the US economy, Spain is seeing a virtuous circle where an influx of foreign workers is boosting the supply of labor and raising its economic growth rate, a rare feat in the European Union.

“As Spain’s economy improves, migrants come, and as they come, the economy improves,” said Jesus Fernandez-Huertas, a professor in the economy of immigration at the Carlos III University in Madrid.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that Spanish and US economies will grow the fastest among advanced economies in the next two years.

Immigration accounted for 64% of new jobs created and half of Spain’s economic growth in 2023, according to Raymond Torres, chief economist at Funcas, a Madrid-based think tank.

The wave of migrants, most of them documented and with work permits, has increased the proportion of resident foreigners in Spain to 18.1%, above the EU average of 13.3%.

In Spain, 39 % of new citizens were born in Latin America, according to Funcas. In Germany, nearly half of nationalized immigrants were of Asian origin.

Immigrants in Spain used to fill low-skill vacancies in construction and domestic help but that has shown signs of tapering off.

Instead, migrant job growth has been in technology or science, which more than doubled to 109,000 in 2023 from 2018. Immigrants working in hospitality rose by 30% to 525,000 in 2023 from 2007.

In Latin America, Spain has a labor market it can tap that is easily adaptable thanks to a shared language and culture.

Some feel more comfortable in Spain than in other countries in Latin America. Hernandez, who now works for one of Spain’s largest insurance companies, said she found it harder to adapt in Chile, adding: “When I came to Spain I felt right at home”.

The ease of integration has also meant less political friction. Even anti-immigration parties such as Vox support Latin American migration, while calling for curbs on African arrivals.

While Spain’s unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest since 2007, at 11.8% it is still the highest in Europe but companies still struggle to fill certain vacancies and rather than retrain its native population it is often easier to bring in qualified candidates from abroad, said a source at CEOE, Spain’s main employers’ association.

Spain is facilitating the migration wave through visas for highly qualified professionals. (Int’l News Desk)

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