Cablegate: Spain's Illegal Immigration Challenge

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) Summary. The GOS has announced a plan to revise its
Law on Foreign Aliens (Ley de Extranjeria) to grant legal
status to undocumented immigrants who can demonstrate that
they have worked a minimum of one year in Spain. The GOS is
acting in response to a massive increase in illegal
immigration to Spain (mainly from Morocco) since 2003. The
plan would require immigrants to declare their illegal status
and identify their employers and make businesses pay
retroactive social security benefits for the illegal
immigrants that they employ. Officials say their plan would
resolve immigration problems created by the former Popular
Party (PP) government and fulfill the Socialist party's
(PSOE) campaign promise to improve Spain's labor market.
Opponents contend that the plan excludes the majority of
temporary out-of-status workers and will instead increase
illegal immigration and fraud in Spain and in other parts of
the European Union. The GOS expects to reach quick consensus
on the plan; however, criticism from immigrant groups,
businesses, labor, and the EU could unravel the plan before
it goes to congress in October. End Summary.

Spain: The Immigration Challenge

Illegal Immigrant flow

2. (U) Immigration poses a challenge to Spain's efforts to
secure its borders, curb underground economic activity, and
formulate policy to meet the demands of thousands of
undocumented workers already in Spain. The government
estimates that there are approximately 2.7 million immigrants
in Spain including as many as one million illegal immigrants.
Immigrants now make up approximately 6.2 percent of Spain's
total population of 42.7 million, but according to EU
statistics, last year Spain received the largest number of
new immigrants in Europe, 594,300 or 23 percent of all new
immigrants to the European Union. The majority of new
immigrants entered illegally through the Spanish coastal
cities of Cadiz, Malaga, and Almeria, the Canary Islands, or
by crossing from Morocco into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta
and Melilla.

3. (U) The Spanish National Guard reported in August that it
interdicted 412 illegal immigrant boats (called "pateras" in
Spanish). These interdictions led to the arrest of more than
10,042 illegal immigrants, a nine percent decline in the
number arrested in 2003 according to officials. Of the total
number of persons arrested, there were 6,256 Moroccans, 1,500
Malians, 900 Gambians; others were nationals of West African
and Latin American countries, notably Honduras. Officials
rescued 171 illegal immigrants, while fifty-three persons
drowned and 35 "disappeared" in Mediterranean waters. The
arrival of numerous pateras this summer made national news
headlines and raised concerns over the status of
undocumented, illegal immigrant workers in Spain as well as
the porous nature of Spain's southern border.

Labor & Economic issues

4. (U) There are 800,000 to one million illegal immigrants on
temporary work contracts in Spain, according to statistics
from the Spanish Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The
labor ministry also estimates that immigrants filled four out
of ten new jobs created in Spain in 2003. The most recent
data on immigrant employment from 2003 shows that immigrants
from Colombia and Ecuador held 40.6 percent of all temporary
contract jobs while the percentage of temporary immigrant
workers from Eastern Europe, Asia, and other EU countries has

5. (U) Immigrant workers support a massive informal or
"underground" economy according to recent economic studies
(reftel). Economists suggest that informal economic activity
accounts for 23 percent of Spain's GDP and approximately 120
billion euros (USD 143 billion) in unreported economic
earnings. They suggest that the participation of illegal
immigrant workers in the underground economy has increased
substantially since 2001. Reducing unreported economic
activity and employment of illegal immigrants is a key
concern for the GOS because of its efforts to link
immigration policy to improvements in the labor and economic

GOS Policy

Under the former PP government

6. (U) In response to the challenge of illegal immigration
and undocumented immigrant workers, the former Popular Party
(PP) government passed measures under Spain's Law on Foreign
Aliens (Ley de Extranjeria) before leaving office that
required undocumented immigrants to have three years of
residence in Spain before they could obtain legal resident
status. The measures also restricted immigrants from joining
political parties and labor unions. In recent months,
immigrant groups in Madrid and Barcelona have protested the
law arguing that it has left nearly 100,000 immigrants
without work permits and denied them the right to free
association or the ability to negotiate better work
contracts. They demanded that the new Socialist government
reject the PP measures by rescinding the Law on Foreign
Aliens and expediting work visas that would give legal status
in Spain to all undocumented workers and their family members.

The Socialists, new proposal

7. (U) Developing a policy to integrate immigrants into the
labor market and manage the flow of illegal immigrants were
priorities of the Spanish Socialist's (PSOE) electoral
program. On September 14, Spain's Minister of Labor and
Social Affairs, Jesus Caldera, formally presented the GOS's
plan on illegal immigration to a congressional committee on
economic and social affairs. Caldera proposed granting
legal status only to those undocumented immigrants who
demonstrated work ties to Spain for a minimum of one year and
physically resided in Spain for a yet-undetermined time

8. (U) The new proposal involves a one-time immigration
process, which Caldera called "normalization," that would
result in renewable, one year work permits for those
undocumented immigrants currently in Spain who met labor
legislation requirements. Under the proposed requirements,
illegal immigrants would have to reveal their employers
voluntarily and prove that they had been working for them
illegally for a minimum of one year to receive work permits
and temporary resident status. Companies guilty of hiring
illegal immigrants would be required to pay social security
taxes retroactively for the immigrant's period of employment.
Newly arrived immigrants, or those that lack employment
history or domiciles (so-called "clandestine" immigrants)
would not be eligible for normalization, according to
Minister Caldera. Caldera issued a report to the
congressional committee outlining the new policy and said
that proposal would be open to debate by all parliamentary
groups, political parties, businesses, and labor unions. He
was optimistic that the new plan would be approved by
congress in October.


9. (U) The GOS's new plan has been sharply criticized by the
opposition Popular Party and was met with mixed reviews by
labor union leaders as well as the EU Immigration Commission.
PP Secretary General Mariano Rajoy said the plan amounted to
"papers for all" illegal immigrants and argued that the
proposal would benefit clandestine immigrants and criminal
mafias. PP immigration spokesperson Angeles Munoz reiterated
the charge that the government's proposal was another attempt
by the ruling Socialist party to "radically change the
policies put in place by the PP." Munoz said the
government's normalization policy would exclude the majority
of out-of-status contract workers because only 8% of such
workers have contracts that last more than a year.

10. (U) Some labor unions and immigrant associations have
also questioned the normalization criteria in Caldera's
proposal. Immigration spokesperson for the Commissiones
Obreras (CCOO) labor union Lola Granados added that most
agriculture, hotel, and domestic services require contracts
that last less then a year, so the proposal's one-year work
requirement would not help many immigrant workers in these
industries. A spokesperson for the Association of Moroccan
Immigrant Workers in Spain (ATIME) rejected the one-year
formula and the requirement to reveal illegal hiring
practices. ATIME said the government should have consulted
with immigrant groups to establish consensus on the criteria
for normalization before they announced the plan in congress.
The General Worker's Union (UGT) expressed the concern that
any changes in Spain immigration policy that did not
strengthen immigrants' labor rights would give immigrants
false expectations.

11. (U) Vice President of the European Commission on
Immigration, Loyola de Palacio, expressed the EU's concern in
August that Spain's proposal would increase illegal
immigration to other regions of the EU. Palacio commented
that under the new Spanish proposal, illegal immigrants in
Spain could use temporary work status to emigrate to other
parts of Europe Union where they would face equally uncertain
job prospects. This concern was reiterated by the Catalan
Convergence and Union (CiU) party, which suggested that Spain
also impose measures to prevent illegal immigrants from using
their temporary residence status under the normalization plan
to emigrate to other European countries, specifically those
within the Schengen visa space.


12. (U) As the largest net recipient of immigrants in Europe,
Spain is the gateway into Europe for immigrants from North
Africa and Latin America. Although the GOS contends that its
proposed plan will resolve the backlog of undocumented
immigrant cases and curb illegal employment in Spain's
underground economy, the plan does not appear reasonable for
businesses, labor unions, and illegal immigrants alike. The
new measures would penalize businesses for hiring illegal
workers by making them pay retroactive social security tax
and may cause illegal immigrants to lose their jobs if they
inform on their employers. The proposal also fails to
address labor concerns on whether illegal immigrants can join
unions or protect their employment status if they hold
contracts for less than a year. In addition, the GOS
proposal could create an unintended pull effect of new
immigrants into Spain and create problems with the EU on
coordinating common immigration policies. The GOS proposal
in its present form may not survive a robust domestic debate
among businesses, unions, and immigrants groups and could
generate greater uncertainty about the direction of Spain's
immigration policies within the European Union.

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