Foreign nationals are leaving Catalonia as amount of job opportunities dries up

Following a decade of significant increases in the amount of foreign nationals in Catalonia, it appears that many are beginning to leave as job opportunities dry up. In 2000, the percentage of foreign nationals living in Catalonia was 2.9%, while just over a decade later in 2011 this figure had increased to 15.73%. However, in the past couple of years the amount is beginning to reduce: between 2009 and 2013, 44,000 foreign nationals left Catalonia. According to the Spokesperson of non-governmental organisation SOS Racisme, Jose Peñín, immigrants are leaving as “they have less stable contracts and work in more abusive conditions”.

The number of foreign nationals living in Catalonia is being reduced due to the high unemployment rate (by ACN)
The number of foreign nationals living in Catalonia is being reduced due to the high unemployment rate (by ACN) / Julian Scully

Julian Scully

September 20, 2013 05:47 PM

Barcelona (CNA).- In the early 2000s, following sustained economic growth in the costruction and tourism sectors, Catalonia received a significant amount of foreign nationals arriving to work. However, in recent years it appears this trend is coming to an end as Catalonia is passing from being a receiver of immigrants to a sender of emigrants. In 2000, the percentage of foreign nationals living in Catalonia was 2.9%, while in 2011 this figure had risen to 15.73%. However, in the past couple of years due to the decline in economic growth, the consequential reduction in the amount of jobs, and the poor working conditions , it appears that foreign nationals are beginning to leave Catalonia. A study released by the trade union Comisions Obreres (CCOO) this July, stated that between 2009 and 2013, 44,000 foreign nationals left Catalonia. The Spokesperson of Barcelona-based non-governmental organisation, SOS Racisme, Jose Peñín, told the CNA that immigrants are choosing to leave as “they have less stable contracts and work in more abusive conditions”.

Foreigners work in worse conditions and get paid less

Some employers are able to take advantage of the often unstable conditions of foreign workers and make them work more hours and for a lower wage, explained SOS Racisme and the CCOO. The Head of Migrations for the CCOO, Carles Bertran, stated that foreign workers “are always the worse paid and work in the hardest jobs; they are also more susceptible to work in bad conditions because if they do not work, they will have to leave the state”. Workers employed through a temporary work contract are likely to be those laid-off first if a company has to make cut-backs. In 2012, 15.9% of Spanish nationals worked within temporary employment in Catalonia, while this figure for foreign nationals was 26.1%.

Jose Peñín, from SOS Racisme, illustrated the difficulties that foreigners have when finding and retaining a permanent job. “In order to get a work contract you need a residency permit, and to get a residency permit you need a work contract; it’s a catch-22 situation”. In this respect, many work without a contract and are, therefore, denied assurances if they lose their employment, putting them in a potentially insecure situation. “If you want to extend your residency permit for two more years you have to have been working the previous six months and also have a contract lined up for the next six months”, Peñín continued. 

Many workers looking for job opportunities abroad

The reduction in the foreign population in Catalonia is taking place as “foreigners are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain work”, Carles Bertran noted. It is logical that people increasingly look in other countries for jobs as there are not as many employment opportunities available now as there ware ten years ago in Catalonia. Bertran stressed how foreign immigrants “do not just come here to work, they have other interests such as raising their children and providing education for them as well as keeping them in good heath”. It is a global trend, and if people are able to enjoy a better quality of life elsewhere and retain a stable job, then they will leave.

Low intensity racism

While the foreign population is on the decline in Catalonia, Peñín emphasised how they are not just leaving because of the lack of work opportunities but also because of rising tensions between different parts of the population. There has been an increase in incidents of racism as the foreign population has gone up and also because the crisis has left many locals without jobs. “People need a scapegoat when things go wrong, and in the last three or four years incidents of racism have been on the rise. Many foreign nationals are leaving due to the hostile environment that exists, if you are treated badly it makes sense that you want to go somewhere else”, Peñín stressed.

Within Spain as a whole, the unemployment rate among foreigners is 40%, while for Spanish nationals this figure is 20%. Furthermore, in Catalonia during 2008, the amount of foreigners who had a work contract was 30%, but by 2012 this figure had reduced to 24.3%. During the current economic stagnation that Catalonia is going through there has been an growth in “low intensity racism” according to Peñín. “It is a type of racism that you do not realise you are doing. It is easier to blame immigrants for the economic problems that we are experiencing, however studies show that they give more money to the state than the other way around”, she continued.

Anti-rumour projects to combat racism

To combat the level of prejudices that currently exists, Barcelona City Council has created an Anti-Rumour Network that has the objective of combating negative and unfounded rumours about the foreign population living in Catalonia. The Network was created in July 2010 and contains more than 300 organisations, associations and individuals. It produces anti-rumour videos and magazines as well as workshops for young people. The project involves classes that train ordinary people to become anti-rumour agents. These agents use factual statistics and data to contradict rumours directly in front of the person who is saying it. Peñín noted how some foreigners “are discriminated in the workplace or simply in the street among friends”, and for that reason SOS Racisme also provides “courses to combat rumours as well as awareness classes”.

Immigrant levels to increase when the economy does finally improve

When the Catalan economy does finally recover from the current crisis, it will no doubt need a high percentage of people of working age as in the coming decades Catalonia is set to have an increasingly ageing population. Therefore, the importance of the foreign population coming to work will be more important than ever to support the economy. Carles Bertran stated that “it is certain that when the economy does finally recover we will see levels of immigration rise again”. He explained how the CCOO aims to inform immigrants about their rights, for example how many hours they should work, minimum wages and holiday entitlement. They also provide Catalan and Spanish classes for free to make it easier for them to integrate into society.