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Anti-covid measures and employment: overview of the situation in Spain

Employment is an important issue for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, in views of organising life in a new environment. The health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic over the EU members states only unveils vulnerabilities that create barriers in finding employment and make them work on unfavourable conditions and temporary contracts,or push migrants to work without contracts and no rights to social security and public benefits.

Anti-covid measures caused lay-offs in different sectors. During the nationwide emergency state in Spain, workers with temporary contracts faced challenges in obtaining unemployment benefits. The problem especially concerned domestic and care workers (i.e. mostly migrant women), restoration and catering workers, and self-employed.

To improve the situation of people who worked in the afore mentioned sectors the Spanish authorities implemented some measures. At the beginning of April, the government approved an extraordinary unemployment benefit for domestic workers with a job contract who lost their jobs or had their workday reduced. However, this only affects a small part of all domestic workers, since the majority (around 200,000) work informally with no contract. Although the government affirmed that dismissals are forbidden during the state of alarm, many people have been affected by the loss of their jobs, as confirmed by trade unions.

On the other hand, some care workers have decided to stay and live with the old people they take care of (at home or residencies) in order not to leave them unassisted or pose them to a greater risk if they commute every day. This has obliged them to cease the contact with their own families and seek help among their communities to take care of their own children, creating a care chain. As a consequence, these workers are more exposed to health risks, sometimes without the adequate protection (or public recognition), which poses them in a more vulnerable position. 

Another specific measure is related to seasonal work, as a result of the suspension of circular migration programmes and the closure of borders. The government has facilitated employment procedures for regular migrants without a job who reside close to the fields, within the same or the neighbouring province. According to the Royal Decree 13/2020, they are also allowed to combine this job with unemployment benefits. Former unaccompanied minors between 18 and 21 with a residence permit, who in a normalised context would not obtain the right to work until they turn 21, are also a key target of this Decree. However, in principle this measure will only apply to this season. 

The situation remains difficult for beneficiaries of international protection (BIPs) of less than 6 months (therefore with no right to employment) and those irregular migrants who are awaiting their residence permit. Although the General Directorate of Immigration (in response to the demands of NGOs and civil society) first considered them as target groups, the Ministry of Interior did not agree with the proposal and it was finally dismissed. The conflict within the government between the General Directorate of Immigration, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Economy also emerged in relation to the regularisation of highly qualified doctors and nurses, as explained below. Social movements and NGOs have organised a campaign (#regularizaciónYa) which claims for the regularisation of those who are in an irregular situation, considering that the socioeconomic crisis that will follow will most likely leave many migrants ‘without papers’ due to the loss of jobs and the inability to renew their residence permits. 

The government has facilitated around 200 job contracts for highly qualified migrants specialised in the health sector who were awaiting their credentials to be homologated. There were also claims from other highly qualified doctors and nurses who had not started their homologation process to be considered under this policy, but in the end it has not been approved.

Another interesting example of inclusion of beneficiaries of international protection into the labour market refers to the actions led by the NGO ACCEM.  The local labour integration program for BIPs has offered jobs for about 20 peoplein the management of health material waste of COVID-19 coming from hospitals in Caceres. 

CIDOB Barcelona Centre for International Affairs

Kseniya Homel
The European and Migration Policy Programme
Institute of Public Affairs