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Politico-legal developments | Spain |

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Politico-legal developments

Axel Kreienbrink

/ 4 Minuten zu lesen

The development of Spanish migration policy can be described as a slow process of maturation toward becoming an immigration nation. Accordingly, regulations have constantly been adjusted to reflect the issues of the day.

Controlling immigration has always stood at the forefront, whereby new issues, such as integration, have only gradually been given more room in the debate. In terms of the evolution of migration policy in Spain, it is possible to differentiate between three or four phases.

In the initial policy development phase, basic legal provisions were created, and political awareness concerning immigration developed. Among these basic provisions were the articles pertaining to foreigners and asylum that were included in the 1978 constitution as well as the more restrictive and police-oriented Aliens Act of 1985. This law was generated at a time when there was no significant immigration to Spain. At the time, migration-related issues played no role in parliamentary discussion. Only as the implementation of such regulations proved problematic, as demonstrated at the end of the 1980s, did lawyers, non-governmental organisations and the Defensor del Pueblo (ombudsman) begin to address the topic.

The political realisation that immigration-related problems actually existed led the government to formulate a baseline for immigration policy in 1990. This political programme laid the foundation for the second phase of migration policy-making in Spain, a phase characterised by differentiation, coalescence and consolidation. Regulations were introduced that affected all areas of migration policy: entry and visa regulations, expanded border security, the introduction of permanent work permits, quotas for foreign workers and a tighter asylum policy in line with harmonised European regulations. Also, initial steps were taken toward creating an integration policy, including the adoption of permanent residence permits and regulations for reuniting families as well as the creation and expansion of specialised administrative services. One of the most important political measures during this phase was the adoption of new regulations concerning the implementation of the Aliens Act of 1996, which encompassed many of the above-mentioned regulations. Overall, this development was influenced by the gradual emergence of a European migration policy, especially by Spain's 1991 entry into the Schengen agreement, which brought with it a significant number of obligations.

The third phase of migration policy development in Spain began in 2000, as the "Law Concerning the Rights and Freedoms of Foreigners and their Social Integration" (Ley Orgánica 4/2000) took effect. This law can be considered as modern, flexible migration legislation, designed to facilitate legal immigration and social integration while retaining all existing control mechanisms. With the recognition that immigration would remain a constant, Spain had emerged as a true immigration country. Immigration had gone from being a neglected issue to a key political one. Thus the topic found its way into the centre of political debate and increasingly became a populist tool for political mobilisation. After winning an absolute majority during the March 2000 election, the governing conservative People's Party (Partido Popular; PP) tightened the law (Ley Orgánica 8/2000) in order to, among other things, prevent undocumented immigrants from enjoying various rights afforded to persons with a valid residence permit. The restrictive direction of migration policy under the PP led to stricter measures regarding deportation, internment and family reunification, as well as to penalties for aiding and abetting illegal immigration.

The change of government following the elections in March 2004 brought with it a new phase of legal stability in which the question of foreign integration clearly eclipsed the question of safety and control, as evidenced by the movement of the public body in charge from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. The new socialist government took a liberal, consensus-oriented approach to the issue of immigration. While the law has remained unchanged, the new regulations on implementation passed at the end of 2004 were significantly more liberal in nature. These place stronger emphasis on creating legal, employment-bound paths of entry. Furthermore, regulations concerning family reunification were eased again slightly, while procedures for dealing with undocumented employment were tightened. In addition to these measures, a campaign to legalise undocumented migrants took place in the first three months of 2005; for the first time, such an action was dubbed a "normalisation" process instead of a "legalisation" campaign (see below). Since that time there has also been in place a less stringent regulation allowing for permanent legalisation for those who can prove they are "rooted" in the country (arraigo). A well-endowed integration fund was also established by the central government (2005: 120 million euros; 2006: 182 million euros; 2007: 200 million euros) to benefit autonomous communities and local authorities responsible for integration in their locality. The funds are intended to finance measures to receive and integrate immigrants as well as education programs targeting young migrants. These funds have meanwhile been integrated in the comprehensive Strategic Plan for Citizenship and Integration (Plan Estratégico de Ciudadanía e Integración 2007-2010), worked out following extensive public consultation and consensus. In all, the funds total about two billion euros over a period of four years. The funds and the plan are intended to serve as a framework and platform for coordinating the diverse measures for the integration and reception of immigrants.



  1. For further information on the following, refer to Kreienbrink 2004 and Aja/Arango 2006.

  2. Roig 2005.

  3. The autonomous communities (comunidades autónomas) correspond to a certain extent to the German states, although they each have different powers.

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