In spite of a generous amnesty that in 2005 legalized the residence and employment of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants, Spaniards are worried about the influx of foreigners and believe that too many already are in the country.
According to a new Centre for Sociological Research (CIS) poll released this week, 40% of Spanish citizens identify immigration as the country's main problem. The number of opinions pointing to immigration as Spain's main problem has been steadily increasing and further jumped 2.6% over last October's poll.
Immigration, however, ranked second on the list of Spain's top challenges trailing unemployment, which 54.1% describe as the country's main problem. The survey included 2.500 people and was carried out between November 15/21.
Spain has become the promised land for immigrants in recent years, especially from Latin America. Last February the Socialist government of Rodriguez Zapatero implemented an amnesty which enabled some 700,000 illegal immigrants to apply for legal status. Almost all applications are expected to be granted legal status.
The majority of applications, some 52.26%, were filed by immigrants from Ecuador, followed by Romania, Morocco, Colombia, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Argentina and Ukraine. Immigrants currently account for about 8.3% of Spain's population equivalent to 3.69 million people. Ten years ago the number was only half a million according to the National Statistics Institute (INE).
The presence of immigrants is even bigger in Madrid, where 15% of the population, 881,000 people, is foreign-born. Valencia, Catalonia, Andalusia and the Canary Islands are also dealing with immigration pressures. Despite the fact that the number of Latin American immigrants in Spain continues to grow, Moroccans, for the first time, surpassed Ecuadorians, until now the largest group of immigrants, reported INE.
The CIS survey showed that 59.6% of Spaniards say that there are "too many" foreigners in the country, however 65% also say that immigrant labour is needed. There was almost unanimous support for only allowing immigrants with work contracts to enter the country and eight of 10 respondents said immigrants should have the same rights as Spanish citizens.
However one third of interviews replied that there were "enough, but not too many immigrants"; 59.6% replied "too many" and 3.5%, "few" immigrants. Some 80% percent of those surveyed said immigrants who commit a serious crime should be expelled from the country, and 50% that those committing any crime should be deported from Spain.
Half of the interviews agreed with the statement that "in general" immigrants push wages down, while 68% stressed that the presence of immigrants "hurts the economic prospects of poor Spaniards, rather than the rich". However, only one out of four agreed that immigrants who were unemployed for a long period of time should be deported from Spain.
As to relating with immigrants, 65.5% said they had some contact mostly at work, (61.4%); in the neighbourhood 47.7% and as friends, 53.3%.