Download MIPEX III Spain in Spanish (pdf)



Few societies transformed as quickly and permanently into countries of immigration as Spain – now Europe’s largest. From record employment, the crisis brought the highest unemployment in the EU. Job losses hit young and temporary workers the hardest, including migrants. While fewer have come, few who settled in Spain will return, with futures invested in a recovery. Society saw some politicised debates (e.g. welfare, Islam) and changes (e.g. education).

Nevertheless, Spain benefits from slightly favourable policies for integration – now the best of Europe’s major immigration countries and 2nd among its newest ones, behind PT. Despite cuts affecting all residents, government maintained and even slightly enhanced long-term commitments to economic, family, and societal integration. European standards and co-operation were used to secure settled migrants’ residence and family equality. All children saw new strengths on school access and intercultural education. Despite recent efforts, voting rights and equality bodies remain ineffective. Moreover, residents lack shared paths to citizenship found in reforming (PT and GR) and established immigration countries. Evaluations are starting (e.g. Strategic Plan for Citizenship and Immigration). Consensus is often needed among Autonomous Communities for integration improvements.

Timeline - What's Changed

0 21 December 2007
Royal Decree 1262/2007 formally establishes Council for Promotion of Equality and Non-Discrimination.
0 19 September 2008
Voluntary Return Plan
Royal Decree Law 4/2008 adopts Voluntary Return Plan; few migrants participate
0 January 2009
Education for Citizenship and Human Rights becomes mandatory for all pupils.
+5 December 2009
Labour Market Mobility
Immigration Law 2/2009 gives spouses and adult children equal right to work.
+9 December 2009
Family Reunion
Immigration Law transposes EU law to improve gender and family equality, but limits parents.
+6 December 2009
Long-term residence
Immigration law transposes EU law and opens to international students.
0 December 2009
Immigration law
Gives irregular immigrants freedom of association, assembly, education and vocational training.
0 March 2010
Integration funds
Government limits Integration Fund with regions to 70 million, later raises to 130 million.

Key Findings

  • Spain leads new immigration countries on Economic Integration and Family Life. 
  • Like most countries, only goes halfway to address crisis’ disproportionate impact on foreign residents. 
  • More equal opportunities for non-EU spouses/partners, adult children. 
  • Crisis brings new limits on reunion with parents and grandparents. 
  • New strengths on Access to Schools, and Education for Citizenship and Human Rights. 
  • Voting rights remain ineffective for all non-EU residents. 
  • Worst path to citizenship for all newcomers and descendants of all major countries of immigration, unlike reforming countries Greece and Portugal. 
  • Anti-discrimination laws below European average because of nationality discrimination and weak equality body.  

Score Changes

Areas of Integration

  • Show Labour Market Mobility

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    Working families, skills for all

    Before 2009’s Immigration Law, Spain (and just 9 others) did not automatically give reunited families the right to work. When transposing EU law, Spain, like recently GR and LU, now grants immediate labour market access. The goal is to get more spouses and adult children into employment and discourage irregular work. Undocumented workers also gained equal access to post-compulsory education and training. The law’s reasoning was that improving the skills, qualifications and languages needed for Spain’s labour market allows integration in the host society.


    Plans and funds on integration, employment

    Migrants and local communities have seen long-term growth in funds for integration, despite some cuts. In 2010, government reduced from 200 to 130 million euros the Autonomous Communities’ Support Fund for Reception and Integration of Immigrants and Educational Reinforcement. Still, the Spanish Integration Fund 2007–2010 totals 2 billion euros, based on the Strategic Plan for Citizenship and Immigration (2007–2010). 11% is allocated for employment, which the Plan focuses on economic problems related to diversity. A comprehensive evaluation is planned for 2010.

    Spain scores in the top 5 among SE, NL, PT and CA because all residents, whatever their nationality, have the same legal opportunities to get back into jobs – if and when the Spanish economy recovers. All sectors benefit from their potential because of equal access to private, public and self-employment. Spaniards, other EU citizens and non-EU residents can also use general education, training and the same procedures to recognise foreign qualifications. With the 2009 Immigration Law, spouses and adult children gained the same opportunities to access legal work (see box).

    Basic equal access and rights are also guaranteed in other developed countries that are dependent on migrant labour, both traditionally (e.g. CA, UK, US) and recently (e.g. CZ, IT, PT). As such, newcomers became part of the Spanish labour market, with its parallel systems of temporary contracts, informal employment and ‘bubble’ sectors such as construction. All residents in Spain and 12 other MIPEX countries should, according to law, experience the same working conditions and access unemployment benefits and social security that they paid into as workers. Voluntary return plans have proved ineffective because most unemployed migrants do not see their future in their countries of origin.

    Spain has already gone half of the way to address the crisis’ disproportionate impact on foreign residents. Unemployed migrants are specifically encouraged to have their qualifications recognised and use available education and training. These targeted measures are average for established immigration countries, behind PT and 7 others (FR, DE, NL, Nordics). These countries better inform foreign residents about job and study opportunities, while setting specific targets to reduce inequality for all vulnerable groups. For example, DK, FR, DE and SE open up public employment services through the right to migrant mentors and coaches. Along these lines, Spain could work to encourage young and mobile foreign residents to get into better recovering and secure sectors and regions. Similar employment policies and funding could be implemented for migrant women and youth, following up on the 2009 law granting equal job access for reunited families. New immigration countries improving their targeted policies, such as PT, may avoid long-term inequality and exclusion. 

  • Show Family Reunion

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    Broader definition of family, despite crisis?

    2009’s Immigration Law ‘recognises family diversity’ by letting partners apply (as in half MIPEX countries). Provisions on work, autonomous residence and protection against sexual violence meet family and gender equality goals. However, parents/grandparents face new limitations; more than in 9 MIPEX countries, but still better than 12. Sponsors must prove either long-term residence or urgent care/humanitarian needs. Responding to recession, the goals are to encourage ascendants to work in countries of origin and discourage new burdens on Spain’s labour market and welfare state.

    Reuniting non-EU families now enjoy more equal opportunities in Spain, the 3rd most favourable for integration in all 31 MIPEX countries, after CA and PT. Spain promotes both economic integration and family reunion like other labour migration countries. Transposing EU law expanded eligibility for spouses/partners and adult children, while limiting it for parents and grandparents, which is why MIPEX registered no change on eligibility (see box). During free and now short procedures, there is little reason to reject sponsors who fulfil the same basic conditions for family life as Spanish nationals (e.g. basic support and housing). Spouses and adult children can use their new equal labour market access to become financially independent and autonomous residents. 

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    ‘Education for Citizenship and Human Rights’

    This curriculum became mandatory in 2009. All students must acquire a specific skill set and understanding on citizenship rights and obligations, diversity and global social problems. Based on evidence of changes in society, government intended to end recent problems of violence, harassment, discrimination and racism among students. The final curriculum drew on European standards (e.g. Council of Europe’s Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights) and consultations with 20 social organisations, though many Catholics and conservatives objected to moral and sexual education.

    Now that all pupils have equal access to schools (as in half the MIPEX countries) and to intercultural education curricula (see box), schools’ new needs and opportunities are the major challenges for Spain’s Autonomous Communities and most European countries. Socially disadvantaged pupils benefit from general support. But if newcomers have different needs, there are very few systematic legal entitlements for all pupils, parents, and teachers. Autonomous Communities have some introduction and language courses, limited funding and projects, and few programmes diversifying schools and teachers (see DK, DE, NO, SE, UK). To promote the 2-way integration process, they could also teach immigrant languages and cultures to immigrants (currently for some Moroccans and Romanians) and Spaniards (currently only Portuguese). 

  • Show Political Participation

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    Ineffective voting rights

    Spain and PT, both leading new immigration countries on political participation, cannot get around their reciprocity-based voting systems that need political will for constitutional change (as in AT, DE, IT). Civil society and socialist/left parties supported full immigrant voting rights after the 2004 general election. Since then, government sought a ‘flexible’ constitutional interpretation. Bilateral voting agreements have been offered to 15 third countries, but ratified with only 9, because parliament deemed conditions not reciprocal enough. Reciprocity is not possible for several key countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Morocco.

    All Spain’s non-EU residents cannot effectively participate in public life and have seen little progress, despite government pledges on voting rights (see box). The various consultative bodies have strong powers (see also DE regional, FI and NO). However, immigrant representatives are not leading them or directly elected. Their role is weaker than in Europe’s older, democratic bodies, which rely on experienced community leaders (e.g. FI, LU, NO). 20 MIPEX countries guarantee equal political liberties. 2009’s Immigration Law also does so for undocumented migrants, who cannot be denied such fundamental rights under the Constitution. Immigrants organise with some State funding, but may not know about all these political opportunities (see FI, NO, PT). 

  • Show Long Term Residence

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    Like reunited families, long-term residents are better able to secure their future in Spain than in most European countries (along with BE and SE) because of the 2009 Immigration Law’s use of EU standards (see also progress in BE and PT). Former international students are better eligible for EC long-term residence. Following recent trends (e.g. AT, BE, PT), Spain opened equal chances for former students trained for its labour market to settle there. Once non-EU residents have 5 years’ residence and a basic income like any Spanish resident, the procedure is short and simple. Provisions on absence from the EU are clearer, but still short for their co-development projects, as in most countries.

  • Show Access to Nationality

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    For Spain to resemble other major immigration countries, its slightly unfavourable path to citizenship needs reform. Many reforming countries make access quicker for all newcomers and simpler for their descendants, inspired by established immigration countries: around 4 to 6 years’ residence (currently 10 in ES and IT) and citizenship at birth after one generation (as in 6 MIPEX countries, recently DE, PT, GR) or 2 (as in 5, including Spain). For example, PT’s conditions for citizens of Lusophone countries were made into entitlements for all speaking basic Portuguese. Dual nationality for all naturalising immigrants is another trend (now 18). Spain even scores below unreformed countries like IT, because of Spain’s potentially time-consuming and discretionary procedures.

  • Show Anti-discrimination

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    Equality body: weak and not independent

    The law and decrees creating the Council and regulating its powers have raised little parliamentary debate, civil society consultation or public awareness-raising. The Council, only operational since September 2009, was not modelled on Europe’s many strong and fully independent equality bodies (e.g. La Halde in FR). Their assistance to victims stops at advice and investigations. Bodies in 12 MIPEX countries offer victims alternative procedures or support in court. Countries such as BE, CA, FR, NL, SE and UK also provide networks of regional/local anti-discrimination bureaus.

    Spain is slightly less prepared to fight discrimination than the average European country because of nationality discrimination and its critically weak equality body. Spain’s average definitions and enforcement mechanisms protect victims of ethnic, racial and religious discrimination, but not nationality discrimination, an issue of national interest for a country of immigration. 15 MIPEX countries, including FR, IT and PT, explicitly protect all residents from unjustified forms of nationality discrimination in major areas of their life. Equality policies, weak across Europe, are even weaker in Spain. The Council for Promotion of Equality and Non-Discrimination, with a weak mandate to help victims (see box), undermines the effectiveness of antidiscrimination laws and government’s broad equality commitments.