Migratory flows are not a new phenomenon, nor are they something that contemporary societies have invented. With greater or lesser intensity, to a greater or lesser degree, migrations have always been present in the history of mankind. Always. They are an inseparable component of evolution and progress. They have never ended, nor will they end now.
However, it is true that the migratory flows registered in Spain have increased in recent decades, or at least they did until 2011, when many of those who had come decided to leave a country in a precarious economic situation. This has generated certain changes or pressures for change on legislative, ethical and social aspects.
Let's look at some of these considerations in more detail.
Change in the last decades of the 20th century
Spanish society has undergone very powerful transformation processes in the second half of the 20th century, and migratory flows have had a lot to do with this. In this case, instead of being caused by emigration to other countries —a historical dynamic in Spain—, it has had to do with the arrival of foreign citizens.
These flows have profoundly transformed the profiles of Spanish society. It is not only the weight acquired by the population of foreign origin in Spain —which, after reaching its peak in 2011 with 5.7 million people, now exceeds 4.5 million people, 11% of the total population—, but also the changes it has operated on Spain's cultural roots.
The country now has a level of multiculturalism comparable to that of the main receiving countries in the developed world, with a much greater tradition of receiving immigrants. This only enriches the country and does so, moreover, with a much higher level of integration, as well as with a much lower presence of xenophobic or racist behavior.
Absence of legislative changes
In any case, despite this increase in migratory flows up to 2011, the initiatives adopted at the legislative level were not excessive in number. Quite the contrary. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the approval of Law 12/2009, of October 30, regulating the right to asylum and subsidiary protection, as well as several partial reforms of Organic Law 4/2000, of January 11, 2000, on the Rights and Freedoms of Foreigners in Spain and their Social Integration, and its implementing regulations. Also Law 14/2013, on Support for Entrepreneurs and their internationalization.
For the rest, the last Strategic Plan for Citizenship and Integration 2011-2014 expired without a new general strategy in this area having seen the light of day so far. And precisely during these years of economic and employment crisis, the vulnerability of households formed by people of foreign origin has become evident.
Thus, the time seems ripe for Spain to take a comprehensive approach to the reality of the new migration scenario in Spain, from the point of view of its effects and its contribution in different areas. A broader prism that covers from the origin of the immigrants who settle in Spain to the very triggers of the migratory processes, among which family reunification has increased in importance.
It should be borne in mind that thousands of children and young people born or socialized at a very early age —the so-called second generation— already live in the country, as well as more than one million new Spaniards as a result of the intensification of naturalization processes.
See: Basic guide to achieve Spanish citizenship
A new way of looking at it
All of the above makes it necessary to adopt a new approach when assessing the effects and opportunities of migratory flows, since not all people of foreign origin in our country have directly lived the migratory experience or fit neatly into the category of "immigrants". In fact, it is difficult to find a single term to define the people involved in migratory flows.
Perhaps, beyond the word "immigrant", a broader sociological concept, we should also start talking about the legal category of "foreigner". This term, on the one hand, appeals only to the nationality of the subjects and, on the other hand, refers to the "foreigner" legislation, mostly associated in Spain to the General Regime applicable to non-EU citizens.
"Immigrants" would be all those persons whose biography includes a migratory background that has a decisive influence on their life trajectory, regardless of whether they have experienced first-hand the move from one country to another. Or, as is the case with children born or who arrived at a young age in the country of destination, they may not have done so, but grow up in a bicultural context marked by the journey undertaken by their parents or even their grandparents.
In this sense, the acquisition of Spanish nationality or that of another European Union country does not necessarily erase this background in terms of its consequences in people's lives. In the same way that its impact on the more than two million residents in Spain, of Spanish nationality, born abroad, cannot be ignored.
See: If I acquire Spanish nationality by residence, do I lose my nationality of origin?
Thus, in summary, Spain's challenge for the future is twofold in the area of migration: on the one hand, to integrate immigrants; on the other, to create new legislation for all those foreigners who wish to stop being foreigners.
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