1.10.2008 | Von:
Tim Elrick

Effects of networks on selected policy measures

We now go on to demonstrate how migration networks work by examining some selected migration policies, taking the example of Romanian migrants in Spain, whose networks were only recently examined in detail in a research project. [1]

Following the end of the communist era in Romania in 1989 and during the early stages of their country's transformation, increasing numbers of people used their newfound freedom to travel in order to earn or augment their income abroad. Once the first pioneer migrants had gained a foothold in western EU countries (in particular Germany, Italy and Spain), migration networks gradually developed between various Romanian communities and individual towns in the respective destination countries. Due to their language and cultural proximity, Italy and Spain were of special interest and at the same time offered a wealth of job opportunities, especially in the low-pay sectors of agriculture, construction and some domestic services (domestic help and nursing services). [2]

Effect of Romanian migration networks on immigration in SpainEffect of Romanian migration networks on immigration in Spain Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de (bpb)
Romania is an important emigration country and yet to date it has adopted only a few specific migration policy measures that might have affected emigration. Until now only one body has been set up to deal with bilateral agreements. [3] Indirectly, of course, the issuing of passports from 1990 contributed to facilitating leaving the country and thus to boosting migration flows. [4] By contrast, Spain, a country that until recently was regarded more as a country of emigration, has developed a migration policy over the past 20 years that enables it to regulate the increasing immigration of foreign workers. [5] Of the many policy measures, two that have had a particularly extensive impact are presented here, namely the legalisation of undocumented migrants and the bilateral agreements on labour migration between Spain and individual countries of migrant origin such as Romania. In addition, two further policies are examined that, due to the supranational regulation of individual policy areas in the European Union, affect migration flows to Spain.

Regularisation campaigns in Spain

After joining the European Community (EC) in 1986, Spain has experienced a sustained economic upswing that makes it increasingly attractive to migrant workers. Since, until then, the country had had very little experience of immigration, the new laws and guidelines on immigration were strongly oriented towards the strict EC accession criteria, which aimed at seeing immigration significantly restricted. Since, however, Spain offered considerable economic incentives to migrant workers, ever-increasing numbers of undocumented job-seekers moved there. Spain's migration politicians were bound by the regulations that they, as junior member of the EC, sought to adhere to without fail. Owing to the experience of emigration that they and the Spanish population had themselves had for decades, however, they looked favourably upon the newcomers. [6] Nonetheless, in order to be able to control unrestricted immigration, so-called regularisation campaigns were repeatedly carried out. Regularisation campaigns enable foreigners staying in the country illegally under certain circumstances to obtain a residence permit. This then protects them against deportation and simultaneously guarantees certain fundamental social rights. Since Spain joined the EC, these regularisation campaigns have been carried out five times, namely in 1986, 1991, 1996, 2000/01 and 2005. Each time the criteria have varied for successful acceptance to a regularisation programme and thereby for receiving a temporary residence permit which could, under certain circumstances, be extended again afterwards. In 1986 the criteria were still very unclear, leaving their interpretation to the discretion of the individual executive authorities. [7] In later regularisation campaigns they were more specifically formulated, making them more assessable for migrants. In addition to furnishing proof of a certain minimum stay in Spain, migrants were also regularly required to prove that they were already in employment. This condition was, however, relaxed in the 2000/01 regularisation campaign to the effect that proof of an employment contract indicating that the migrant was about to take up work was also deemed sufficient. [8] Through the voluntary official registration of undocumented workers staying in the country, these regularisation campaigns give the Spanish government a good overview of the magnitude of irregular migrant flows into their country.

Workers from Transylvania and Moldavia were among the first migrants from Romania to head for Spain after receiving a passport from 1990. Due to the economic situation in their own regions before the collapse of communism in Romania they had already gathered a great deal of internal migration experience. Especially in communities of origin with strong social cohesion, powerful migration networks were quickly established in which the migrants helped one another to utilise the job opportunities in Spain. Very large numbers of migrants were therefore able to profit from the 1996 regularisation campaign, which did not grant the usual residence visa of just one year, but rather a six-year visa that could later be converted into an unlimited stay. [9] As usual with regularisation campaigns it was announced that this was the last opportunity for foreigners residing in the country illegally to remain without facing prosecution – a measure to stop the further immigration of irregular migrant workers. However, in the case of Romanian migrants this resulted in their making all the more use of their migration networks. It is reportet [10] that even remigrants, in other words people who had previously worked in Spain and were now living again in Romania, profited from the regularisation campaigns. Informed by their network contacts, they travelled back to Spain so as not to miss the opportunity to obtain a longer-term residence permit. In some cases, their network contacts provided these remigrants with the necessary documents to apply successfully for a residence permit.

The regularisation campaign in 2000/01 had a still-greater influence on the number of Romanian migrants in Spain since firstly this offered opportunities for family reunification and secondly it was already being discussed years previously. The latter had the effect that the information about the high probability or a renewed regularisation campaign disseminated via the Romanian migration networks led to increased irregular migration to Spain from origin communities in the years before 2000. Even during this regularisation campaign, the regulations for obtaining a residence permit were tightened up significantly by the newly-elected conservative party (partido popular). [11] The opportunities for family reunification that were heavily utilised by Romanian migrants, however, largely counteracted this change in policy.

This indicates that the established Romanian migration networks not only supported the policy measures of regularisation that were positive for migrants, but significantly reduced the effectiveness of, if not rendering ineffectual, the measures directed against immigration.


The representation is based on data collected for the EU Marie Curie Excellence Grant project "Expanding the Knowledgebase of European Labour Migration Policies (KNOWMIG)". Further information on this research project can be found at http://www.migration-networks.org.
see also Elrick, Lewandowska 2008
cf. Elrick, Ciobanu 2007
Horváth 2007
cf. Kreienbrink 2008; Aja et al. 2006
Arango 1999
Moya Malapeira 2006
Kostova Karaboytcheva 2006
Solé 2004
Elrick, Ciobanu 2007
Kreienbrink 2008



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