Spain’s Voluntary Return Plan

13 04 2011

Imagine starting your life in a new country: new job, friends, culture and landscape. Would you accept a lump sum to uproot your new life and return to your native country, unable to return for three years? Spanish immigrants are asking themselves this very question, as the 2008 Voluntary Return Plan that offers those options is evaluated to help solve the immigration issue.

The plan is aimed toward legal immigrants who have lost their jobs. These immigrants who chose to participate in the plan will receive a lump sum of 40% of their unemployment payouts before they leave Spain and 60% once they return to their native country. They are not allowed to return to Spain for three years. This weighs out to be about $40,000 total.

When the plan was first put into effect, the government estimated about 1 million immigrants would accept the proposition. Nearly three years later, that is not so. Only 17,000 migrants from the U.S., Africa and Eastern Europe have decided to return home and accept the  money.

TIME magazine comments on the disappointing results of the plan: “Insufficient funding, along with inadequate promotion and explanation, are some of the reasons that Carlos Giménez, Director of the Institute for Migration, Ethnicity and Social Development at Madrid’s Autonomous University, believes the Return Plan hasn’t had more adherents. But the real problem, he suggests, is the provision that requires departing migrants to surrender their residency permits, and agree not to return to Spain for at least three years. ‘You’re asking people to give up something they’ve worked hard to earn,’ he says. ‘I understand why the government is concerned about … a scenario where someone takes the money, and turns around and comes back. But there are things they can and should do to protect against that, while still protecting people’s juridical status.'”

Spain’s economy is still trying to recover from the recession that began in 2008 and has a 20% unemployment rate, the highest in Europe. The 30% unemployment rate among migrants should lend more success to the plan, yet it still hasn’t caught on as expected. There has been some limited success, however. For the first time in ten years, the immigration rate has declined and immigrants are intrigued and asking about the plan.

The government is still grasping at straws to solve the unemployment problem and alleviate issues related to illegal immigrants, but the Voluntary Return Plan is not the ultimate answer.

Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s recent decline for a third term may help as a new prime minister will take the burden on his/her shoulders. In the meantime, immigrant-related violence, issues of cultural dilution and unemployment remain grave issues for Spain.


Immigration and the burqa

3 04 2011

Growing up in America where rights to freedom of expression and equality are instilled since birth, the concept of clothing that discourages celebrating my body and my style, is completely foreign.

Wearing a burqa, an outer garment used to cover women’s bodies in public places, is still a common part of Muslim culture. Sometimes these garments are paired with a hijab that covers their heads, and a niqab that covers their eyes, stripping them of all individuality and personal image.

This is relevant to Spanish culture as immigration from Muslim countries to Spain continues to soar. According to an article on, “Spain currently has a Muslim population of slightly over 1 million, or about 2 percent of Spain’s total population. Spain has experienced a whopping ten-fold increase in the number of Muslim immigrants in just 20 years. The debate comes after the Spanish Senate, on June 23 [2010], voted 131 to 129 to “use all options under our legal system and to proceed with rules to prohibit the public use of the ‘burqa’ and the ‘niqab’ to ensure equality, freedom and security.”

There have been repeated accounts of discrimination and violence toward women in Spain dressed in traditional Muslim garb. This ban aims to ensure freedom, equality and security for these women.

The influx of Muslim immigrants also threatens to dilute Spanish culture as the Pew survey, sponsored by the Spanish government, reveals that only 46% of Muslim immigrants are fluent in Spanish. The survey also displayed a want for Muslim immigrants to maintain their culture and distinguish themselves from the larger Spanish society. They show no interest in assimilating to the Spanish customs or way of life.

“Almost 80 percent of the Spanish public sees Muslims as having a strong Islamic identity. Among those in the Spanish general public who see Islamic identity on the rise, 82 percent say it is a bad thing. Around 65 percent of Spaniards are somewhat or very concerned about rising Islamic extremism in their country,” the Pew Survey also reveals.

There are still questionable factors involved in this ban being approved based on the Spanish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. While the Muslim community has a right to maintain their practices and traditional dress, but when women are facing discrimination and even physical abuse, the burqa seems to be causing more harm than good.

WikiLeaks exposes reservations on Zapatero’s leadership

14 02 2011

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