Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Immigration in Spain: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (Part II)

Now for the bad news...

The Spanish government has announced plans to crack down on illegal immigration in Spain. The leading PSOE party, normally quite immigrant-friendly, has either finally come to the realization that immigration is a serious problem in Spain or has given in to pressure by the European Union. Either way, it's not particularly good news for those of us who have enjoyed the relative freedom of living illegally in Spain or for those who had plans to take the easy route to living in Europe.

So what is the government going to do? One measure is to increase the amount of time the police can detain illegals while arranging their deportation. The EU is in fact debating a universal measure right now, but Spain has taken steps of its own by increasing detainment to up to 40 days. That means the police have 40 days to arrange the deportation/repatriation of an illegal immigrant. If authorities are unable to arrange the deportation of an illegal before the maximum number of detainment days elapses, they are forced to let the sin papeles walk free. By increasing the number of days, they are hoping to be more effective at getting illegal immigrants out of the country.

But what does this really mean for, say, English teachers in Spain? Probably not a whole lot. North Americans and Australians do not really figure high on the list of priorities for Spanish police seeking out illegal immigrants. That being said, I do know English and Irish teachers who've been asked to show their IDs during random checks on the street, in the Retiro, etc. But for the most part, a U.S., Canadian, Australian, etc. in Spain can -- if asked for ID -- claim to be a tourist who has left their passport in the hotel/friend's apartment/etc.... and get away with it. A South American, African, or Asian may not have the same luck.

One worry we may all have to face, though, is whether a crackdown on illegals will put pressure on English academies to refuse non-legal applicants. When I was teaching English, it was never a problem to get work "under the table". An increase in government scrutiny on illegal workers, however, could cause some English language schools in Spain to cut down on the number of illegal teachers they have -- or eliminate them altogether. On the flip side, it could have the positive effect of forcing English academies to hire all teachers legally. The government has said that anyone who wants to work in Spain should get things sorted out before coming here. (Ummm... wasn't that always the case?) If the government has decided to make everyone stick to the rules from now on, it needs to be prepared to let industries that rely heavily on non-EU citizens (English teaching being one of them) to offer legal jobs with working papers to non-EUers. Will this actually happen? Only time will tell.

Another question is whether the up-to-now lenient passport control officers at the airports will start scrutinizing the passports of non-EU citizens. For the past year, I've managed to enter the country several times -- despite my passport having a huge, one-page stamp from the Spanish police ordering me to leave the country. Granted, the stamp is from May 2007, and I followed the orders and stayed out of the country for three months. But since then, I've been back and forth and not once have they asked me about the stamp. Even when the policeman at passport control took the time to read the stamp, he didn't ask me any questions as to why it was there or look through my passport to see where I had been since receiving the stamp! (By the way, the stamp was the result of a rejected prorroga request.)

It will be interesting to see whether the current laissez-faire attitude changes regarding illegal immigrants from North America, Australia, and other such countries. And I think you know what I mean by "other such countries": not South American, not African, and not Asian. My guess is that we've still got some breathing room, as the government continues to focus on the aforementioned groups. But a general decrease in tolerance towards sin papeles and increasing pressure from the EU to keep illegals out of Europe could eventually take its toll on all of us. I, for one, am being much more cautious than I ever was before.


ErnieLG said...

Oh, I'm somewhat conflicted after reading your entry. I'm a hapa from the US who was thinking about teaching illegally in Spain. Hah. Do you think I should abort my plans? Do you know what the attitude of Spaniards is toward hapas or people who are kinda East Asian? Would the "I left my passport in my hotel room" excuse work, you think?

eslhell said...

Hi Ernie,

I'm not going to lie -- many aspects of living in Spain are easier if you are not Asian, black, or South American. By that I mean getting someone to rent you an apartment, finding work, etc. Of course, that's a big generalization, and you will always find exceptions. While I haven't known any Asian teachers here, I have met plenty of African Americans who worked illegally in a number of academies. The only problems they had, at times, were with students who basically didn't want non-white teachers.

As far as the passport thing, I think you would be okay if you carried around a photocopy of the first page of your passport. This is what I do. That way, if they ask for ID, you can show them the copy which has your photo, name, and nationality. Once they see that you're from the U.S., I really don't think they'll bother to ask for any more info.

I hope that helps!

ErnieLG said...

Thanks; that was actually very helpful! I was considering taking a CELTA course in Madrid, and this company says on their website that one needs "working papers in order to be offered a contract". I know many academies are lax about this, but do you think that they're serious if they're explicitly stating this? The site where I saw it is here: http://www.languagetoolbox.com/allaboutcelta/working.html

eslhell said...

International House is a pretty big company in Madrid. I've known a few people (all British) who worked there, but no Americans. It's possible that a place like that may adhere to the rules, since it's so well-known.

But even if they are sticklers on the rules, doing a CELTA course there would look good on a teaching CV and help you get work at other places in Madrid (or throughout the world -- it's an international organization). There are literally hundreds of English language schools in Madrid. As long as you time it right (e.g., looking to start work in early September rather than June, July, or August), you should be able to find work.

ErnieLG said...

Hey, thank you so much. I'm actually considering taking the CELTA course at International House in August so that I could start work in September. Perhaps you'd let me take you to coffee once everything works out!

eslhell said...

Good choice -- there should be loads of work available after you finish your course!

I'd love to know how everything turns out for you, so I may take you up on that coffee!

Sarah said...

any updates on changes due to the "crackdown" on immigration since you posted this? I'm looking to take a TEFL course in Madrid starting January & then hopefully teaching afterwards...thanks!

eslhell said...

Hi Sarah,

The Spanish government is definitely cracking down on illegals in general, but as of yet I haven't heard of it affecting the EFL world. Illegal North Americans are not #1 on the list of people they want to kick out of the country! However, if you're concerned about whether you'd be able to get work, I'd recommend posting your question in the three forums I'll list below -- you're bound to get some responses:


Good luck!