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Spain Lets Unaccompanied Minors Work Legally by Bridget Ryder

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Spain Lets Unaccompanied Minors Work Legally

A change in Spanish migration law has made it easier for minors who immigrated alone to Spain to obtain work permits. Since the end of October 2021, when the law went into effect, 9,300 MENAs (menor extranjero no acompañado, or unaccompanied foreign minors), have been given work permits, and half of them are now employed.  

“The change of the regulation helped me a lot. Many young people, people I know, have started working. My dream is to get a lot of experience in hospitality and open a business here in Spain. Before the reform, everything was closed doors,” Elhouceine Er Raqioui, a recipient of a work permit, said in a press release from the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security, and Migration. 

Previous to the change in law, the majority of these young people, mostly boys from Morocco, left the care of the state when they turned 18 and were thrown into Spanish society but without permission to work. The majority had residency status that only allowed for a “non-lucrative” residency. Others had work permits that had to be renewed annually. But in all cases, the hurdles to obtain a regular work permit, or to renew an annually granted permit, put economic independence out of reach. Few met the requirement for demonstrating personal income of €2,151 a month, an ambitious goal even for native Spaniards, many of whom meld into the ubiquitous mileurista—the native-born university graduate who spends years working full-time while earning only about €1,000 a month. 

Because of difficulties obtaining work permits, MENAs often found themselves forced to work on the black market, even after receiving professional formation programs subsidised by the state.

The new requirements reduce the economic threshold to obtain a work permit to 500 euros a month, even if that income comes in the form of a state subsidy. The requirement can be waived if there is an organisation sponsoring the young person. 

It also grants 16 and 17-year olds still in state custody a continuous work permit. In Spain, mandatory education ends at age 16. 

The change is aimed at reaching 15,000 young people in the country: both those still under the care of the state and those qualifying as extutelados, those over the 18 who were once wards of the state. 

According to data released by the government, 60% of eligible workers have benefited from the change, and more work authorizations are still being processed. The ministry also stated that 77% of the permissions requested have been granted. 

With their work permit in hand, young people have quickly incorporated into the labour force. Within a month after the first work permits were issued, over a thousand young people had found jobs, and six months later, by May 2022, 559 were employed. 

The restaurant industry has benefited most from these new workers, with approximately 1,100 young people getting jobs in the sector. Large percentages have also landed employment in agriculture, manufacturing, and sales. 

The reform helps address a contradictory labour shortage in the country. Despite 3 million unemployed people in Spain, and the worst youth unemployment in the European Union at approximately 30%, there are 100,000 jobs in small businesses available. Other sectors—construction, hospitality, and transportation—also lack workers. Agriculture constantly struggles to find helping hands. Construction and transportation not only need more workers immediately but are projecting an even greater dearth of employees in the foreseeable future. 

Negotiating the reform was politically tricky, as the Ministry of the Interior, charged with border protection, resisted the change on the grounds of a ‘knock on’ effect that would only attract more unaccompanied minors to cross the Mediterranean. But contrary to expectation, according to the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security, and Migration, Spain has not seen a notable increase in arrivals of unaccompanied minors. Illegal entries into Spain had already been increasing exponentially since 2020. 

Hundreds of MENAs also landed in state custody in May 2021 when Morocco opened the border fence with the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, letting in tens of thousands of Moroccans in a matter of hours. The vast majority very quickly returned to Morocco voluntarily, but there is no agreement or system between Morocco and Spain for deporting unaccompanied minors. 

The Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security, and Migration is working on a similar reform that would facilitate contracting unauthorised immigrants already in the country as well as foreign workers still abroad. 

Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.

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