Prevention of Upward Mobility for African Migrants Then and Now: A look in the past

From the 1970s to the 1980s, Spain saw rises in the numbers of African migrants living in the country. The majority arrived to Spain in search of work and found their places in the agricultural sector. Now at this time, Spain also saw significant number of their citizens leaving the country for abroad in search of work. You might ask why a country who previously was sending its citizens outside of the country in search of work, was accepting migrants from abroad for just the same reason. The answer is though to be because most of these migrants were entering the country from Africa to work in agriculture and farming.

According to a study (Zapatto-Barrero 2008) agricultural work provided the first Spanish job for almost half of the African workers interviews. An indication that farming is a major employer of Afro descendants here in Spain. Even despite the high levels of unemployment it was still Africans that held many of the open agricultural positions, few farmers even citing that they hired limited numbers of Spaniards because it was proven that African were harder workers.In interviews, farm owners stated that “Africans are good workers, and are used to the hard working conditions of farming. Africans have a good physical endurance so they put up with hard agricultural tasks”.

However it can be assumed that the hiring of Africans meant there were fewer legal obligations toward their workers, as unfortunately the Africans were not informed of their workers rights and were more often worried about keeping the job they had than whether they were treated justly or not.

Exploitation of African migrants was not uncommon and often prevented them from upward mobility. Spanish law stipulated that a worker had to be contracted on a permanent basis after working for the same employer for three years (Zapatto-Barrero 2008). But in order to avoid paying social security for workers, Spanish landowners found ways to get around this clause. They would fire their migrant workers and then offer them a new work contract after a period of time, as to be able to claim that their workers had not been employed with them for three years.

Unfortunately for African workers, it was stipulated in Spanish law that, yes, workers could come to Spain with a one year work permit but they had to renew it at the end of the one year. With successful renewal of a work permit, they could maneuver throughout the country more fluidly because this now meant they could hold a permanent residence as well. But in order to renew they had to have held a contract of employment and fully-paid social security contributions from their employer. However, with the system of firing and rehiring, it was hard for immigrants to prove that they had consecutive and consistent work for the time period required by the Spanish government to obtain legality. Hence it became very easy for migrants to cross the very thin line between legality and illegality, restricting their mobility and their opportunities.

According to Zapatto-Barrero, the work left for African migrants is described as low-skilled work where little formal education is necessary to perform it. But it also yielded poor pay and was made available in fields which were of little to no interest from the local (or in-migrant) Spanish population. This being said, the work is the lowest of the low in Spanish society and not even Latino immigrants, no matter how desperate for work they are, would willingly stoop to do it. The probability of Africans being able to rise from this type of work was very small. And if they were unable to move freely within Spain, how could they gain access to bigger cities where their were more opportunities for not only them but their children as well in terms of work and education?

In a survey it was recorded that 41.9 percent of Africans with more formal education (secondary or higher education) wished to leave Spain dour to lack of access to professional work in country. A observation that was affirmed during my investigations in Spain. It is almost as if their is a glass ceiling preventing African nationals from upward occupational mobility.