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Immigrants flock to Spain

Population density of Spain in 2005

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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The United States has long been a favorite destination for Spanish-speaking immigrants, but now there's hot competition — from Spain. Only a generation or two ago, poverty and dictatorship made Spaniards flee to lands of promise in Latin America. Now Spain has one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. Not surprisingly, a lot of its wayward descendants are returning. Jerome Socolovsky has more on the story from Madrid.


JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: Immigration lawyer Marcelo Belgrano's filing cabinet is packed with applications from people who want to immigrate to Spain.

Belgrano himself came here from Argentina in the '80s before the latest wave of Latin American immigrants.

Now, more than 100,000 people per year are flocking to Spain, choosing it over the U.S.

MARCELO BELGRANO:"Todavia, los Estados Unidos se sienten como un destino un poco mas agresivo."

"The United States is thought of as a tougher place to live," the counselor says.

The new arrivals not only choose Spain because of the language. He says they also come because of the lower crime rate and the generous welfare system. Illegal aliens get free health care here.

So even the college-educated are coming, taking up jobs as dentists, doctors and architects.

There are also strong blood ties. Like many Argentines, Belgrano has ancestors who emigrated from Spain in the early 20th century.

BELGRANO:"Y en cambio aqui tenemos nuestros abuelos, nuestras familias."

"Here we have our grandparents, our relatives, and we are very well received," he says.

In fact, anyone with a grandparent who left Spain can get fast-track citizenship. Even descendents of Jews expelled in 1492 are eligible.

But that doesn't mean that things are easy when they get here. The college-educated immigrants say it can take years to get diplomas and other qualifications recognized in Spain.

And there's discrimination. Latin Americans are pejoratively known as "Sudacas."

BELGRANO:"Y muchas veces un argentine no es un imigrante."

"Many times an Argentine isn't considered an immigrant, or a Sudaca," he says. That's because they tend to be more educated, and are generally white.

Still, Argentines are just a fraction of the estimated 1.2 million Latin Americans now living in Spain.

Ecuadorians, Colombians and Peruvians make up the majority, and most of them are working in unskilled jobs.

Miguela, a nanny from Paraguay, works from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. taking care of a two-year-old and cleaning the home. She plans to go back as soon as she makes enough money.

MIGUELA:"Yo ganaria, este dinero que gano aqui."

"The money I make here in one month, would take me a year to earn in my country," she says.

When she does go back, there'll be plenty of others happy to take her job. Already, one out of 10 people living in Madrid are Latin Americans.

In Madrid, I'm Jerome Socolovsky for Marketplace.

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