Spain's guest-worker program provides test case for EU

A partnership with Senegal offers temporary visas and development support in exchange for a crackdown on emigration.

As the European Union takes strides toward expanding legal migration into the bloc as a whole for the first time, Spain is already giving a taste of what may be to come through a new partnership with Senegal.

The record 31,000 would-be migrants from West Africa that overwhelmed security forces in Spain's Canary Islands last year has forced Madrid into action. Although Africans make up only 5 to 10 percent of Spain's illegal immigrants, their plight is the most visible, with more than 6,000 perishing in their attempts to reach Europe last year.

Employing temporary visas to battle the illicit sea route to Europe, Spain says it will this month offer training in Spanish maritime practices and one-year jobs to the first 165 of 700 Senegalese fishermen. Madrid, fearing a new deluge of boatloads arriving along with the warmer weather, has pledged thousands more temporary visas will come this year.

The partnership, which Madrid is considering expanding to other African countries next year, offers temporary visas and development support in exchange for pledges from Senegal to crack down on emigration. Spain is already familiar with such temporary-visa programs, most notably with Morocco (see main story).

Though the Spain-Senegal agreement allows workers to stay on after their one-year visas expire, provided they've found work, it puts into practice many of the measures of "circular migration" that Brussels is promoting on a broader scale.

Using logic akin to President Bush's proposed guest-worker program, circular migration – allowing migrants to work temporarily in Europe – is meant to reduce illegal immigration and provide Europe with the farmhands and factory workers it needs, while avoiding integration costs.

Coordinating immigration policy among EU members is part of "an evolution in the EU thinking about how to tackle migration challenges," says Louka Katseli, director of the Development Center at the Organization for Economic Cooperationin Paris.

Spain is also developing other mechanisms that may be adopted by the EU. Spain's director general of immigration, Marta Rodrígruez-Tarduchy, traveled to Mali this year with the EU's development commissioner to announce the first European job center there. Similar to one Spain had opened in 2006 in Senegal, the center is meant to help European countries better meet their labor demands through Africans who need jobs.

"These centers ... are different steps in shifting the control of the migration process to the country of origin," Ms. Rodrígruez-Tarduchy says.

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