The number of foreigners settling down in Catalonia is returning to the level before the recession. The municipal register figures for 2018, published by this newspaper, show a net increase of 75,000 new foreign residents. In fact, many more moved to Catalonia (up to 135,000), but 60,000 left. The balance in 2017 was just under half that figure: 43,000 new residents coming from abroad. In contrast, the figures from 2011 to 2016 were negative: more foreigners left than arrived.
Therefore, we are witnessing a predictable shift, one that makes perfect sense: Barcelona city and Catalonia as a whole remain an attractive destination. This is still a place where people want to settle down, where they feel they will have an opportunity and will be welcomed. If this trend continues, everything suggests that Catalonia’s population will hit the 8 million mark in just a few years. As has happened before in history, Catalonia’s population is only growing thanks to foreigners who have moved here. Catalonia’s birth rate is very low. That has been the case historically and newcomers eventually default to it. Catalans have few children, as do the new Catalans who move here. Coupled with an ageing population with a long life expectancy, this means that bringing in foreign population is critically important for Catalan society to remain dynamic and demographically active.
This fresh spike in the number of arrivals comes at a time when the economy is wobbly and recovery from the recession has been sluggish, with lingering problems such as high unemployment. This means we must be vigilant about the way these newcomers are included. The ideological climate created by the penetration of the far right’s anti-immigration rhetoric poses an additional problem: our own fears and weaknesses are easily projected onto those who got here last. It is happening across Europe. This prejudice has fuelled the recent crises of the unlicensed street vendors and the “menes”, the migrant teens [who have moved to Catalonia, mostly from Morocco, without their parents].
The truth is, though, Catalonia has always needed “new blood” from abroad to guarantee our nation’s material progress. Catalonia’s traditional ability to welcome and include newcomers has always made our nation stronger, especially after the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and the modernisation of our economy in the 20th century. In earlier centuries, times of decay were often tied to demographic setbacks.
From a cultural viewpoint, the surge in foreign arrivals is helping to consolidate the cosmopolitan, pluralistic nature of Catalan society, with Barcelona as a global city at its forefront. This diversity at home is another constant feature that has coexisted with the preservation of our language, even though there are obvious challenges, as we have seen with the effects of the recent migratory wave. Arguing that Catalan must remain the language of instruction at school and the language of social promotion must be compatible and consistent with policies to welcome and include the foreigners who decide to move to Catalonia.