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Spanish Emigration Hits Highest Level Since at Least 2008

FILE - Demonstrators carry signs reading "We are forced to leave" and "They send us away" during a protest against unemployment among young people and the emigration produced by the financial crisis in Madrid, Spain, April 7, 2013.

The number of Spanish nationals moving abroad rose last year to its highest level since comparable figures were first compiled in 2008, the National Statistics Institute said Thursday. Many traveled to Britain, where they now face an uncertain future following last week's decision by British voters to leave the European Union.

Almost 100,000 of the country's citizens left in 2015, with one in eight moving to Britain, 10 percent to France, 9.6 percent to Germany and 9.3 percent to the United States.

Britons last week voted to leave the European Union after "Brexit" campaigners said freedom-of-movement laws in the bloc had allowed an unsustainable number of EU citizens to move to Britain, straining social services.

All told, Spain's population declined by 11,142 in 2015 to 46.438 million, a drop of 0.02 percent. It was the fourth consecutive annual drop.

Though it was the shallowest drop in the series, the decrease was part of a trend that has ground on since the financial crisis pitched the country into a five-year slump.

The downturn did not bottom out until mid-2013. By then, construction activity had crumbled and unemployment was soaring, sparking an exodus of thousands from the Iberian peninsula.

In the four years ending January 1, 2016, the population shrank by about 380,000. Last year, the net outflow of Spanish citizens was almost 47,000. Some 52,000 returned in 2015.

Some of the Spanish nationals leaving the country were born in Latin America and elsewhere before acquiring passports.

The net outflow of Spanish nationals in 2015 was largely offset by the first net influx of foreign nationals since 2010. The net foreign inflow was 38,317 last year, the data showed.

The number of Spanish citizens rose slightly last year, boosted by foreign inhabitants acquiring citizenship. A total of 114,207 foreign residents became citizens of Spain last year.

More than one in five of them were from Morocco, with Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic accounting for most of the rest.

The biggest net outflow of foreign residents in Spain came from Romanian, Bulgarian and British citizens. The biggest net influx was from Italy, Venezuela, Ukraine and Honduras.