Spain to Pay Jobless Immigrants to Leave Country

Spain will pay jobless immigrants to go home under a decree approved Friday, more dramatic evidence of how a once-booming economy has quickly gone bust.

Labor Minister Celestino Corbacho said the measure was approved at a Cabinet meeting under a fast-track procedure and will take effect in about a month after a largely symbolic passage through Parliament.

The plan targets tens of thousands of non-EU citizens who have been laid off in Spain and are entitled to unemployments benefits. It offers them a lump sum payment of 40 percent of that money once they renounce their work and residency permits, and the remaining 60 percent once they get home.

The program is strictly voluntary, and applies to people from 19 non-EU countries with which Spain has signed bilateral accords under which social security benefits accrued in one nation can be paid out in the other.

People who sign up for it must agree not to come back to Spain for three years, with the promise they will be able to recover their work and residency permits after that.

The initiative is the latest thrust by a government grappling with ever-swelling jobless ranks in an economy that had posted more than a decade of solid growth but is now flirting with recession. Spanish unemployment is now an EU-high of 10.7 percent, according to the bloc's statistical agency Eurostat.

The meltdown stems mainly from a collapse in the construction industry, the main engine of all the growth and a key source of employment for low-skill workers from Latin America, North Africa and eastern Europe.

These immigrants are taking a particularly big hit as building companies lay off workers, and they are the ones the government now wants to pay to go home and stay there until things get better in Spain.

"We are trying to facilitate the return of those workers who, having contributed to the growth of this country, decide to go back to their own," Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told a news conference after the Cabinet meeting.

Corbacho gave no figures Friday but the government said in July it believed some 10,000 jobless non-EU citizens — out of a total of 165,000 recorded as of that month — would go along with the plan.