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Governance of Migrant Integration in Spain

During the last three decades of the 20th century, Spain changed from being a country of emigration to a destination for immigrants. In the first decade of the 21st century, the country experienced one of the largest increases of immigration in world, increasing its foreign-born population from 2% of the total population in 2000 to 11% in 2007. The 2008 economic crisis slowed down this trend, as the percentage of the foreign-born population remained somewhat stable since then, ranging between 12% and 13%. In 2015, the country registered a positive net migration rate again, and the migration rate has grown since then.


By the end of 2018, Spain had registered about 2.95 million third-country nationals (TCNs) residing in the country. They represented about the 6.3% of the total population, according to the National Statistics Institute.

At 1 January 2019, the largest groups among TCNs were people from Morocco (714,239), Colombia (199,540) and China (190,624). During 2018, the Venezuelan population registered a major increase (+47%), reaching 133,934 people residing in the country. Nearly 16% of TCNs held a temporary residence permit, while the remaining 84% were permanent residents at 31 December 2018.

In 2018, out of the 345,997 temporary residence permits granted, 148,042 were for economic activities, 105,758 for family reasons and 42,583 for humanitarian reasons. In addition to the foreign population, the Spanish population also included 2,137,769 Spanish citizens with a third country background. 90,828 people acquired Spanish nationality in 2018.

Integration Strategy

To foster the social inclusion of these populations, Spanish policymakers have so far set up two integration strategies. The first Strategic Plan for Citizenship and Integration (PECI I) covered the period 2007-2010. It aimed to adapt public policies in the fields of education, employment, social services, health and housing to the needs of the immigrant population; together with nine other objectives. 2011 update (PECI II) identified six specific and five cross-cutting areas of action. A comprehensive strategy against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance also came out the same year.

The integration strategy was not updated in 2015, at the end of the period covered by PECI II. The inclusion of migrants in the workplace, non-discrimination principles and cultural diversity nevertheless continue to be the main pillars of the Spanish integration policy.

Integration Programme

Spain is not currently implementing a national integration programme for third-country nationals on its own, but funds are annually earmarked through a call for tenders. In this regard, several programmes deployed at regional and municipal levels provide:

 þ language courses

 þ civic education

 þ vocational training

The region of Madrid, for instance, established the compulsory course Know Your Laws. In addition, the Ministry of Education, with the help of the Cervantes Institutes, provides specific Spanish courses. The Centre for Attention to Cultural Diversity in Education, under the Ministry of Education, provides information and counseling for intercultural education. Preparatory civics classes are taught for the fulfilment of the Proof of Integration Efforts (Informe de esfuerzo de integración) and the Proof social ties (Informe de arraigo).


Integration measures in the framework of PECI 2007-2010 were subject to monitoring and evaluation processes performed by the General Direction of Migrations in 2011. The report was included in PECI II, for which it served as a basis. A mid-term evaluation report assessing the first integration strategy was also published in March 2010. It focused on the labour market integration of foreigners.

Since 2014, monitoring and evaluation of integration measures have been carried out at the operational level (for projects), rather than at the strategic level.


According to the Spanish constitution (Article 149.1.2), the competences regarding immigration and asylum belong to the State administration, while Autonomous Communities in Spain have social, educational, health, employment, cultural and sport competences, among others. The current institutional framework for immigrant integration was set by Law 2/2009, which introduced a framework of multi-level governance of based on cooperation among central administration institutions, local governments and civil society.

þ Foreigners Law

Law 7/1985 established the rights and freedoms of foreigners for the first time in Spain. It was abrogated 15 years later by Law 4/2000, the first piece of legislation to comprehensively address the immigration phenomenon in Spain and to introduce provisions related to the social integration of migrants. Law 4/2000 was in turn subsequently reformed by Laws 8/2000, 14/2003 and 2/2009. Legal precepts set in the last reform were executed through Royal Decree 557/2011 that aimed at consolidating the ‘legal, orderly and job market-related migration’ model.

þ Asylum Law

Law 5/1984 established the right of asylum in Spain for the first time. It was subsequently modified by Law 9/1994 which was executed through Royal Decree 203/1995, establishing rights and conditions for refugee status. Law 9/1994 was derogated by Law 12/2009, which provides the current normative framework for international protection in Spain. In 2003, the government approved Royal Decree 1325/2003, providing for temporary protection status in case of massive arrivals of displaced persons, but the decree has never been implemented.

ý Integration Law

The is no Integration Law. Organic Law 2/2009 provides a general regulatory framework for integration.

þ Nationality Law

The Spanish citizenship regime was set up by Law 51/1982. This reform of the civil code established jus sanguinis as the core principle underlying the acquisition of nationality and a general requirement of 10 years of residence for naturalisation. It also identified ‘privileged’ groups of foreigners (emigrants and their descendants, citizens of former colonies and Sephardic Jews). This general framework was later modified and complemented by Laws 29/1995, 36/2002, 40/2006, 52/2007, 12/2015 and 19/2015. The last two of these amendments respectively facilitated naturalisation procedures for Sephardic Jews and introduced language and civic tests.

þ Anti-discrimination

Article 71 of Law 4/2000 established the Spanish Observatory of Racism and Xenophobia under the General Secretary of Immigration and Emigration at the Ministry of Employment and Social Security. The Observatory currently has three main functions, according to Royal Decree 703/2017:

  1. collecting and analysing information on racism and xenophobia
  2. promoting the principles of equal treatment and non-discrimination, along with the fight against racism and xenophobia
  3. collaborating with different public, private, national and international agents relevant in the prevention of racism and xenophobia  

Law 62/2003 and Royal Decree 1262/2007 defined the functions of the present Council for the Elimination of Racial or Ethnic Discrimination, under the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality.

Public authorities

The main institution responsible for the governance of immigrant integration at national level is the General Secretary of Immigration and Emigration at the Ministry of Labor, Migration and Social Security. Its General Directorate of Integration and Humanitarian Attention is in charge of the functional coordination of relevant actors, while the Sub-Directorate for Integration and Institutional Relations develops and manages procedures for the reception and integration of immigrants. The General Secretary closely works with the Permanent Observatory on Migration, which conducts research on migration-related topics. 

All the different phases of integration are managed according to a model of multi-level governance that includes the public administration, regional governments (autonomous communities), local entities (town and city councils) and civil society (trade unions, employers’ organisations, NGOs and immigrant associations). Cooperation among the different levels of governance is backed by three entities:

  1. the Inter-Ministerial Commission on Aliens, in charge of coordinating different departments and the General State Administration
  2. the Sectoral Conference on Immigration, aimed at coordinating actions and competencies of the general administration and regional governments
  3. the Forum for the Social Integration of Immigrants, which represents the main channel of participation for NGOs and associations in integration policies

In addition, each autonomous community has its own integration plan, regulating integration policies in its territory.

Civil society

The Spanish Forum for the Social Integration of Immigrants is a consultative body established in 1994. It proposes, informs and channels actions to promote the participation and integration of immigrants in Spanish society. The Forum holds at least two regular plenary sessions per year, in addition to ad hoc extraordinary sessions. Its members are representatives of immigrant associations, social stakeholders and public authorities. They participate in at least one of the three commissions of the Forum: 1) education and social awareness, 2) employment and equal opportunity, 3) multiculturality and social cohesion.

Civil society actors play a remarkable role in the integration of migrants, beyond the implementation of regional and local policies. They often create their own projects and supply a wide range of services, including legal assistance, language training, health care, after-school programmes, adult education and home rental mediation.

During the implementation of the PECI I (2007-2010), non-state actors managed 1,082 projects aimed at immigrant integration with a total budget of € 110,995,587. 

Finally, it is worth noting the crucial role played by civil society organisations in the context of asylum and refugee matters. According to the AMIF report 2014-2018, 91% of AMIF resources in Spain were allocated to civil society-led endeavours. While reception and integration are designed and financed by the Ministry of Labour, Migrations and Social Security, both the reception and integration of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection are carried out and put into practice by NGOs.


   EU Funds

Non-profit organisations and local authorities can apply for financing through several EU funds. In addition, national and private funds are made available for service providers and other stakeholders to carry out projects aiming for a better integration of the migrant population.

  • Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) in Spain


The national allocation for Spain under the AMIF fund amounts to € 427,413,936. In terms of integration, the Spanish AMIF programme prioritises increasing TCNs employability, assisting the integration of vulnerable groups, prevention of xenophobia and strengthening links between the state administration and civil society, among others.

National managing authority

The national managing authority for the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) in Spain is the Ministry of Labour, Migration and Social Security.

  • European Social Fund (ESF) in Spain


ESF supports operational programs across different Spanish communities that include funds designated to social inclusion. All regional programmes are available here.  

National managing authority 

The national managing authority for the European Social Fund (ESF) in Spain is the Ministry of Labour, Migration and Social Security.

  • Other EU funds for integration available in Spain

ERASMUS+, the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe

National managing authority: the Spanish service for the internationalization of Education (SEPIE) manages the Erasmus+ funds dedicated to education and training, while the Spanish National Agency (ANE), integrated into the Youth Institute (INJUVE), manages the Erasmus+ funds earmarked for youth initiatives; more information of the Spanish Erasmus+ website here

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the EU by correcting regional imbalances

National managing authority: the IDEA agency, designated by the Ministry of the Treasury and Public Function (MINHAFP)

☑   Other Funds

  • Other public funding in Spain 

Spanish fund

Generalitat de Catalunya

Barcelona City Council

Comunidad de Madrid

Junta de Andalucía

País Vasco

Álava city

Junta de Galicia

Islas Baleares

Comunidad Valenciana

Junta de Castilla y León

Principado de Asturias

La Rioja


  • Private funding in Spain


Fundació La Caixa

Banco Santander


Fundación Agbar

Other stakeholders

ý Implementing Integration Programme

þ Providing integration services AND campaigning

þ Campaigning

þ Publishing Research and Statistics