Immigrants Shun Plan To Take Money, Go Home

Immigrants shun plan to take money, go home

By Associated Press
Friday, November 13, 2009

MADRID Nearly 9,000 jobless immigrants have signed up for a plan that pays them to return home until Spains recession-hit economy recovers, the government said Friday less than half the number of applicants it had first forecast.

The voluntary plan targets tens of thousands of non-EU citizens, the vast majority Latin Americans, who have been laid off and are entitled to unemployment benefits. It offers to pay them 40 percent of those benefits in Spain once they renounce their work and residency permits, and the remaining 60 percent once they get back to their home country.

The Labor and Immigration Ministry said 8,724 people have applied or already gone home under the year-old initiative. It said the program was doing “reasonably well” in meeting its goals.

However, when the plan was first floated in the summer of 2008, Labor and Immigration Minister Celestino Corbacho predicted some 20,000 unemployed immigrants would take up the offer. After the idea was widely criticized, he cut the estimate in half.

Immigrant activist groups said their constituents were wary of renouncing hard-fought residency and working papers and in many cases had no interest in going home to countries that were also in dire economic straits.

Immigrants also complain that, after contributing to Spains growth by taking low-paying jobs, they were being made scapegoats for the countrys economic woes.

Spains once-buoyant economy is now saddled with a 17.9 percent jobless rate following the collapse of a real estate construction boom. Among foreigners the jobless rate is 28 percent. The economy is now in recession after five straight quarters of contraction.

Immigrants make up about 12 percent of Spains population of 45 million.

The paid-return program applies only to 19 non-EU countries with which Spain has bilateral arrangements allowing social security benefits accrued in one country to be disbursed in the other.