Published on People Move

Volunteers wanted: will Spain successfully entice unemployed migrants to leave?

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Spain is facing an economic downturn that it is affecting the construction industry, a sector of the economy which employs many immigrants.  Workers are being laid off and the Spanish government finds itself in need of providing them with social security and unemployment benefits.

The problem, however, is the majority of migrants face obstacles with regard to portability of these benefits. Under current Spanish social security laws, unemployed workers have the right to receive benefits if they have contributed to the social security system over a certain period of time, but lose them if they leave Spain to reside in their country of origin.

In order to address the unemployment and portability problem, last week, the government of Spain approved a new “Voluntary Return Plan” for workers from 19 non-EU countries with whom Spain has bilateral agreements. The measure offers unemployed legal immigrant workers who choose to go back home an advance of 40 percent of their unemployment benefits before leaving and the rest one month after arriving home.  Immigrants will have to wait for three years before they can re-apply for a residence or a work permit to live and work there again.

According to government official, the measure “is designed to benefit equally the worker, his country and ours.”   I wonder whether immigrants will utilize this option or if they will choose to stay until things improve in the Spanish economy or that in their home countries.  What will guarantee that a return immigrant who applies to this initiative have preferential treatment after three years if he/she decides to go back to Spain?


Sonia Plaza

Senior Economist, Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation Global Practice, World Bank

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