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Spain Ponders US Plan to Accept Latin American Immigrants  

FILE - U.S. President Joe Biden, right, and Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez talk during the opening session of the G-20 summit at the La Nuvola conference center, in Rome, Oct. 30, 2021.

Analysts in Spain are divided over an expected request from U.S. President Joe Biden for Spain to begin accepting migrants from Latin America — a move that would ease the pressure along the United States’s southern border.

Some commentators said it would relieve Spain's lack of workers just as the crucial tourism industry is reviving after the pandemic.

But others said Spain should welcome more Latin American migrants only if it serves the country’s real political and economic needs, not to ingratiate itself with Washington.

Officials were expected to announce the plan to resettle migrants in Spain for the first time at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, where the leaders of the United States, Spain and most Western Hemisphere countries are meeting this week.

Latin American migrants take part in a caravan towards the border with the United States, in Huehuetan, Chiapas state, Mexico, on June 7, 2022.
Latin American migrants take part in a caravan towards the border with the United States, in Huehuetan, Chiapas state, Mexico, on June 7, 2022.

Axios, a U.S. online news site, reported last week that Biden would ask Spain and Canada to accept more migrants, according to internal planning documents ahead of the Los Angeles conference, which the website said it had reviewed.

If the plan goes ahead, it could prove to be politically advantageous to Biden, whose government has faced vast numbers of migrants seeking to enter the United States from Mexico.

Neither government has made any statements about the report.

The White House made no announcements on the matter ahead of the summit, while a Spanish government spokesman told VOA: “We cannot comment on this matter at the moment.”

Incentives abound

But commentators in Spain said the country has plenty of reasons to accept the request. Spain is desperately short of labor despite having the highest unemployment rate in the European Union at 13.5%.

In many cases, Spaniards prefer not to work as waiters or on building sites, according to restaurateurs and construction companies.

Gerardo Cuerva, president of the Confederation of Small and Medium Enterprises, said last month there was a shortage of about 100,000 workers in the key hospitality and construction sectors. Tourism is responsible for about 12% of Spain's GDP, according to the Spanish Institute for Statistics, INE.

The Spanish government is considering legislation to make it easier for foreign workers to become registered as legal workers in Spain and allow non-EU students to take up jobs, though the plans are at an early stage.

Spain hosts about 5.3 million foreign migrants, of which 1.5 million are from Latin America, according to data from the INE from 2021.

The common language, culture and favorable agreements between Spain and Latin American governments mean it is easier for Latin Americans to move for work to Spain. In some cases, Latin Americans do not need visas to move to Spain to work.

The number of foreigners fell by 42,000 in the first six months of 2021 as many left Spain because of the COVID-19 pandemic, often because they had lost their jobs.

What about Africans, Asians?

Javier Bonomi, of Fedelatina, an organization that works with Latin American migrants in Spain, backed the plan to attract more immigrants but with some reservations.

“In principle it is a good idea. It will give people an opportunity to find work,” he told VOA in a telephone interview. “But it will be very sectoral — linked to certain parts of the economy. And it will exclude African and Asian migrants. In one sense it will make people into mercantile commodities to serve the use of the market.”

Such a measure could allow Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to push the U.S. to abolish more tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump on goods like tuna and wind power products. Under Biden, the tariffs have been lifted on Spanish energy giant Repsol selling Venezuelan oil in Europe.

Political advantage

Politically, it also may be a way for Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to cement an alliance with Biden ahead of a crucial NATO summit in Madrid later this month.

The NATO summit will be important for Spain because it is expected to unveil NATO strategy in North Africa, a key area of concern for Spain.

The Spanish leader has been the subject of ridicule in social media, with pundits saying he has not succeeded in getting the U.S. leader’s attention.

When the two leaders met for the first time at a NATO conference in June 2021, they spoke for less than one minute.

Sanchez was ridiculed on social media with some memes likening the Spanish leader to a waiter asking the U.S. president if Biden would like a cafe con leche — a coffee with milk.

Alexis Rodriguez, foreign editor and commentator at ABC, a center-right daily newspaper, said Spain should admit more Latin American migrants only for real economic and humanitarian reasons, not political ones.

“We will see if, in the end, Spain accepts more migrants to ingratiate himself with Biden. It would be a considerable error because the arrival of migrants has to be a decision taken for real economic or humanitarian grounds. Not as a currency of exchange,” he told VOA.