The Problem With Spain's Plan to Pay Migrants to Go Home
By Lisa Abend / Madrid
"The reason behind the plan is simple," says Secretary of State for Immigration Anna Terrón. "In this situation, it helps everyone if those who want to return to their country of origin are able to." She means, of course, the economic situation: Spain's already astonishing unemployment rate of over 20% skyrockets to 30% among documented migrants, many of whom arrived during the boom years and took jobs in Spain's thriving construction industry — the very industry whose collapse has sent the economy plummeting.
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."
Recently, the Spanish government has begun working an amendment to the Return Plan that would grant preferential treatment to those immigrants who wish to come back to Spain once their three years are up. It's a change that Sambrano would like to see implemented. From his farm in Ecuador, he says he misses the beach in Barcelona, and pauses when asked if he thinks he made the right decision in returning. "It's not either/or. Economically, I didn't have any options at the time," he says. "And I'm happy to be back with my children, with my family. But it's a hard life here. If I had the chance to go back, I would."
Just before he gets off the phone, Sambrano makes one request. "If you hear of any work in Madrid, let me know."