Is It Time for Spain to “Return the Favor” to Venezuela, and Open its Labor Market?
Thousands of Venezuelans are seeking refuge every month in Madrid, but Spain is increasingly hesitant to allow them to stay, or participate in the formal labor market.
200 to 300 Venezuelan families are arriving in Spanish airports every week. Virtually all claim that they are there as tourists, and thanks to a liberal visa policy, Venezuelan citizens are allowed a 90 day visit to the Schengen Zone with only a Venezuelan passport. Thanks to the economic devastation and political instability in Venezuela, virtually none of these families are actually arriving as tourists. They are there to stay and join the labor market. Many have sold all of their worldly possessions simply to afford the plane tickets.
In the wake of Spain’s brutal Civil War in the 1930s, many Spanish refugees fled to Venezuela. Now, the trend has reversed. Venezuelan opposition politician Luis Manresa argues that “Venezuela received Spaniards with no questions asked, regardless of whether they had money or papers. The least we expect is to be received in the same way.”
Unfortunately, the Spanish government doesn’t share Manresa’s sentiments. To put it in the starkest of terms, just 15 of 12,875 Venezuelan refugee applicants were granted their asylum requests last year. That is 0.001%.
The European Union and its establishment center-left politicians often like to castigate the United States for the supposed draconian nature of its immigration policies. The US, however, certainly is granting a far higher percentage of asylum applications than Spain.
Asylum claims are coveted precisely because they confer special benefits that other economic migrants are unable to access. Successful asylum seekers generally have a quick and easy pathway to citizenship, as well as access to housing, education, and healthcare paid for by the government, right off the bat. That is why surging asylum numbers are troubling many on the political right in the United States.
Most typical people have few problems with migrants who are ready and able to work and take care of themselves…they do, however, have major problems with people who are coming to be a burden on a nation’s social safety net.
While an estimated 200,000 Venezuelans reside in Spain currently, only 40,000 are licensed to work. The remainder are working for cash in the informal economy. Generally, that means they are unable to access government benefits, although they may receive such benefits as education for their children and medical treatment via emergency room visits.
And so, the mass exodus of Venezuelan migrants leads to resentment that is typical of mass waves of immigrants: particularly when migrants are willing to work for lower wages, and compete for jobs of citizens.
One thing is clear: the European Union has absolutely no basis or pretext to criticize the United States government or Trump for our immigration policies, when they are doing so little in the wake of the greatest Latin American mass migration in thirty years.
But perhaps the Spanish government should be more welcoming. The most salient difference between Venezuelan migrants and Middle Eastern, North African, and Sub-Saharan migrants is this: Venezuelan migrants are prepared to work right off the bat. For all of its flaws and defects, Venezuela did have many highly educated professionals. Venezuelans speak the same language, and could and would work immediately.
With regard to refugees from many other countries that are flooding Spain, France, and Italy, the same can not be said: language barriers are a problem, cultural differences are severe, and they are far less likely to be highly educated professionals than their Venezuelan counterparts.
I am hardly a cheerleader for open borders, or naive and starry-eyed when it comes to the potential for abuse in asylum claims, but perhaps it is time for the Spanish government to step up to the plate, and do more to allow Venezuelans access to the formal labor market.
Granting citizenship is a matter of greater controversy, of course. I also strongly feel that any financial assistance should be offered via churches and private charities, not the government.
Nonetheless, there are thousands of Venezuelans who would be ready, willing, and able to work in the Spanish economy, and who would not present the type of integration and cultural problems of migrants from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, or Somalia.
Perhaps it is time for the new Spanish government to return the favor from the Franco era, and give Venezuelans a chance to work.