Given the media's influence on society, its power to shape and fix ideas in the collective consciousness, and the widespread media attention migration receives, it is important to take a critical view of how it is covered.

That disinformation and hoaxes are extremely powerful tools is something that, by now, almost everyone knows. That they are a common resource of certain sectors of politics when it comes to talking about immigration is also well known. But what we may not have been so clear about is that this modus operandi has also shaped the general view of immigration in Spain. Why not. The profile of the irregular immigrant in Spain is not that of an African who arrives in a boat. The profile of the irregular immigrant in Spain is not that of a young woman arriving in the country on a transoceanic flight.

Informe sobre inmigracionismo 2021: tratamiento mediático de la inmigración en España (November 2021), a RedACOGE report describes that, I quote: "From the information professionals: the main dichotomy is identified as the one generated between virality or impact and respect for the dignity of people in the images used to illustrate information on migration, from which also arises the debate on whether overexposure generates normalization versus shocking images. In relation to this debate, and also linked to it, the idea of the value given by the media to the reality of the "Other" is presented, based on the lack of diversity in Spanish newsrooms, and also to the valuation or measurement of the informative value of the image. It also points to the maintenance of a Westernist gaze as a transversal axis to informative production and with it to the image."

"Of immigrants: A predominance of sensationalist images is identified, with a great negative charge, which reinforces the generation of stereotypes and prejudices, identifying the presence of State Security Forces and Corps in the photographs on migration as one of the key points of such charge, thus generating alarmism and contributing to the preventive discourse. The main impact is the feeling of violence and increased vulnerability when seeing images of this type in the press. It also exposes the lack of diversity in the images, which does not correspond to the current migratory reality".

Taking advantage of International Women's Day, which is celebrated every 8 March, we would like to take a brief look at the most common profile of the immigration that arrives in our country in an irregular manner. Because, as we said, it does not have a male face. It is female. And Latin. They are the most common faces among the approximately 400,000 non-EU foreigners living on Spanish soil without a paper permitting them to do so.

An exodus without legal acceptance that, after falling due to the economic crisis of 2008, has taken off again since 2015.

[IMAGE] Evolution of irregular immigration in Spain (2002-2019, in thousands)

Figure #1: Evolution of irregular immigration in Spain (2002-2019, in thousands).
Source: byCausa and Univ. Carlos III. Values expressed in thousands.

[IMAGE] Evolution of irregular immigration in Spain (2002-2019, as a percentage of total number of immigrants)

Figure #2: Evolution of irregular immigration in Spain (2002-2019, as a percentage of total immigrants).
Source: byCausa and Univ. Carlos III. Values expressed in thousands.

[IMAGE] Evolution of the different legal residence permits in Spain, compared to irregular immigration (2002 - 2019).

Figure #3: Evolution of the different legal residence permits in Spain, compared to irregular immigration (2002 - 2019).
Source: byCausa and Univ. Carlos III. Values expressed in thousands.

Here are some curious facts, and some not so curious,  extracted from the study carried out by researchers Ismael Gálvez-Iniesta (Carlos III University of Madrid) and Gonzalo Fanjul (PorCausa Foundation), which combats many of these hoaxes about irregular immigration.

30 year old woman and Latina

Perhaps, the most remarkable thing at first sight of Gálvez-Iniesta and Fanjul's study is the prototype of the irregular immigrant who arrives, these days, to the Spanish state. According to their findings, this would be a woman of about 30 years of age, with a Colombian, Venezuelan or Honduran passport.

As for gender, the study has revealed that 55% of irregular immigration is made up of women, and that four out of five are under 40 years of age. Of these, three quarters come from Central and South American countries, the vast majority from Colombia, Venezuela and Honduras. In these communities - unlike the Bolivian or Ecuadorian communities, which benefited from the 2005 regularization - the rate of irregular migrants is very high: between 30% and 50%.

[IMAGE] Age distribution of the different population groups

Figure #4: Age distribution of the different population groups.
Source: byCausa and Univ. Carlos III..

[IMAGE] Irregularity by origin (thousands)

Figure #5: Evolution of irregularity by origin (thousands).
Source: byCausa and Univ. Carlos III..

Arriving by plane

Another curious fact that combats the idea that irregular immigration arrives in boats from Africa: about 25% of irregular immigrants who entered Spain did so through the airports of Madrid and Barcelona, and with a Colombian passport. It is that surprising.

The explanation lies in the fact that Colombian citizens, since 2015, do not need a visa to travel to Spain. And just as it happens with many Spaniards in the USA, many are already staying to live even without a residence permit.

The informal economy: a favorite sector

There are no surprises here. And as anyone with a minimum of knowledge of the subject could well imagine, the informal economy occupies the majority of these irregular immigrants. However, informal should not be confused with any pejorative term, since most of these jobs are considered essential occupations. In other words...

Within this, González-Gálvez and Fanjul estimate that the specific sector with the highest number of irregular employees is the household sector (80,000 people), a figure that would be in line with their findings on the profile of immigrants. After household services, the second sector with the most undocumented employees would be the hotel and catering industry (70,000 workers).

[IMAGE] Sectoral distribution of immigrant workers (% of EPA data)

Figure #6: Sectoral distribution of immigrant workers (% on EPA data).
Source: porCausa and Univ. Carlos III.

Positive fiscal balance

Another hoax that does not pass the filter of González-Gálvez and Fanjul's study is that immigration generates losses for Spanish citizens. On the contrary, the researchers' findings point to the fact that a regularization of those in an irregular situation would have a positive effect on the coffers of the Spanish state.

Why is this? Well, first of all, due to the younger age of regularized immigrant households, it should be noted that they contribute more to the state than do families with Spanish nationality.

By calculating the contributions they make on income and social contributions, and then subtracting the sum of public transfers received, the result is that the contributions of immigrant families are 70% larger than those of Spanish families (among whom there are 10 million pensioners). Or, to put it another way, about 2,000 euros more.

[IMAGE] Migratory flows and labor market

Figure #7: Migratory flows and labor market.
Source: byCausa and Univ. Carlos III.

On the other hand, and when direct taxes and public spending on education and health are included in the calculation, households composed of non-EU immigrants only receive 400 euros more on average than Spanish households.

And finally, there remains the most shocking discovery that, for many, this study will lead to. The fact that each irregular immigrant has a cost of 2,000 euros per immigrant. "In case of regularization", the authors propose, "the net fiscal contribution of immigrants in an irregular situation would increase to over 3,250 euros".


Taking all this into account, and if we were to make a sketch of the average irregular immigrant arriving in Spain, we would come up with something like this: a young woman, who has arrived by plane from some Central or South American country and who now works as a domestic worker.

And beyond that, the González-Gálvez and Fanjul study leaves us with another key finding. That immigration does not represent an economic loss in Spain. That beyond the hoaxes and misinformation that indicate that these non-EU workers without work permits are a burden on the state, the reality is far from that statement.

For, according to them, there is no better way to make irregular immigrants contribute to the economy of the state than, curiously, regularizing them.

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