For changing circumstances, Spaniards are changing places

The crisis is prompting many to move to another city or even another country The trend marks a major change in social attitudes compared to just a few years ago

Cristina Delgado
People in Valencia wait in line to sign up for German classes.
People in Valencia wait in line to sign up for German classes. TANIA CASTRO (EL PAÍS)

F or the last half century, since the mass rural migrations to the cities that depopulated Spain's countryside in the early 1960s, Spaniards have grown used to working in the town or city that they grew up in, conditioned in large part by family ties and the tradition of buying a property rather than renting.

Spain's economy is changing fast. The worsening depression is prompting growing numbers of people to look for work in other cities or even abroad, while for others holding on to their job or pursuing their career means being prepared to pack up and move to another part of the country.

Settling into a new home can be difficult enough, but the process is often made more complicated by regional and local bureaucracy.

Some companies will take responsibility for moving their employees to another city. They will help find a home, look for a school, and even arrange the move itself. But this is generally only the case with senior executives, and has become less common in recent years. For the average employee, moving to another city can mean expending a great deal of time and energy.

More than 40,000 Spaniards have headed abroad in the first half of 2012

For home owners, there is the question of whether to sell or rent out their property. At the same time, growing numbers of municipal authorities are introducing policies that give priority access to housing for people who have lived in the area for some time. The resort town of Mijas, popular with British and German expats, has just announced that it will be changing the rules regarding access to low-rent properties. A points system will mean that somebody with more than five years on the electoral register will have eight out of the 10 points needed to take part in its periodic lotteries. Those with just one year on the roll will have only two points. The Basque city of Bilbao requires applicants for municipal housing to have been on the electoral roll for three years, a period that the local Popular Party opposition says is "insufficient." Having been on the electoral register for some time brings with it many benefits - from grants, to being able to choose in which part of the city one's civil marriage ceremony will be held, and the ability to apply for public sector jobs.

Moving from one region to another involves even more paperwork. Aside from having to register on the electoral roll, a new health card is needed, and each region has its own requirements; taxes and local subsidies also vary greatly from region to region. Lourdes Lázaro, who left her native Madrid to study for a master's degree in London, and then moved to Málaga earlier this year when she was offered a job with an NGO, says the process was "exhausting."

"The idea is that most of the paperwork can be done on the internet, but you always end up having to go to an office in person," she says. She has since bought a property in the Mediterranean port city, but it had no garage. "I tried getting a local parking permit to leave the vehicle on the street. I registered on the electoral roll, and got all the paperwork. Then I was told that I had to change the license plate, because the car was registered in Madrid. I went to the local police station on two occasions. In the end, I was wasting so much time that I decided to just rent a garage," she says. So far she has avoided applying for a new health card, aware that this will involve further time and energy. "It was difficult enough getting one in Madrid, but when I came here, I discovered that it was not valid. I know I need to get this done, because I could have a serious accident or get ill, but I keep putting it off because I have private health insurance that covers primary care."

In the meantime, Lourdes' partner remains in Madrid for work reasons. This means he divides his time between the two cities: he works three days in the office in Madrid, and two from home in Malaga, commuting via the AVE high-speed train. "It's a question of organization. I buy the tickets two months ahead, so they are cheaper," he explains, saying that he didn't want to give up his job. For the moment, the arrangement works. "Would I move again? That depends. If I found a really good job, then I probably would, but I'd have to give the matter a lot of serious thought," says Lourdes.

Everyone I knew at university has gone abroad. There is no future here"

Moving for work reasons to another city is complicated enough when children are involved, given that they will have to change schools, and may well be looked after for a few hours a day by their grandparents. That process becomes even more challenging when it involves setting up in a new country, with another language, other rules, taxes, and a different education system.

But the biggest problem that most people face when moving for work reasons is the long-standing tradition in Spain of buying a property rather than renting. Cristina Barceló, a senior researcher at the Bank of Spain, carried out a survey in five EU member states in the 1990s on property tenure and labor mobility. Unsurprisingly, those countries where home ownership was greatest saw the least movement of people from one area to another in search of work. In Germany, where 43 percent of people own their own home, there was a 1.23-percent rate of movement between regions; in Spain, where at that time 83 percent of people owned their own home, the rate was 0.56 percent.

Barceló then established a mechanism to measure the probability of a jobless person accepting an offer of work in another area. If they owned their own home, the chances were slight. The report concluded by encouraging Spain's regional governments to implement policies to facilitate access to rented accommodation. "This will likely produce notable benefits to improve the labor market and in particular to help meet the demand between labor and the offers of work available in different regions," she noted.

Six years on from her report, have regional and local governments done anything to create more rented accommodation or make it easier to rent? Not really. Recent legislation now allows the occupant of a rented accommodation to give just one month's notice. At the same time, tax breaks that once encouraged young people and others on low incomes to rent have been scrapped.

The way things are, I would rather give up my home than my career"

With a quarter of the workforce unemployed, and more than half of under-thirties without work, the government might have been expected to take some measures to encourage those prepared to go abroad in search of a job. But the government's latest round of austerity measures, announced in July, did precisely the opposite: anybody going abroad would have their unemployment benefit cut; upon returning, they would then have to sign on as unemployed for 12 straight months before they would be eligible for the minimum payment of 426 euros a month, assuming that they weren't living at home or with family members in receipt of state benefits.

There were widespread complaints, particularly through the social networks, forcing the Employment Ministry to back down and allow the unemployed to look for work abroad without jeopardizing their right to unemployment payments. They would have to inform their local unemployment office that they were going abroad, but would have to return within three months, and sign on in the country that they were travelling to.

But those in receipt of the minimum payment of 426 euros a month lose their benefit if they leave Spain, and must then re-register. They will then have to wait a year before becoming eligible again.

Despite the problems, more and more Spaniards are now prepared to move to find work. More than 40,000 have headed abroad in the first half of this year, a 44-percent increase on the first six months of 2011. Between 2010 and 2011, some 12,000 people moved to Madrid in search of work; provinces such as Cádiz, Jaen, Pontevedra and Huesca saw the highest numbers of people leaving to find a job in other regions.

Reducing the risks of moving

Get networking

Being prepared to move increases your chances of finding a job, but it also involves taking a gamble. Before packing your bags, take heed of this expert advice.

Moving to another city in Spain is not the same as heading to China. Before renewing your passport and applying for a visa, it is worth checking that your qualifications are valid in the country you are thinking of going to work in, and finding out what the rules and regulations in the job market are like.

Use the internet to get an idea of what jobs are on offer, as well as to get an idea about the living standards in the place you are thinking of heading to. Apply for jobs online and go through the interview and selection process first.

Use your contacts - do a lot of networking. You are unlikely to be the first person arriving at your chosen destination looking for work. Talk to people who are already working in the sector that interests you to get a better idea of what is available. Forewarned is forearmed.

Bring your CV up to date. Even if you haven't moved yet, if you are prepared to do so, make this clear on your CV before going for an interview.

Do your sums. If the job you are being offered is on a short-term contract, check that the living costs in the city or country that you are headed to will actually make the move worthwhile.

Business leaders, international labor organizations, and politicians have spent years complaining about the unwillingness of Spaniards to move away from home to find a job.

"It is necessity that has prompted this increase in mobility. There is no doubt about that," says Josep Ollonarte, the head of job agency Randstadt's professional division. "People are still reluctant to move abroad, but they are now prepared to set up in a different city; that said, if all else fails, then people will accept heading overseas. This is a big change in attitude compared to just a few years ago," he says.

A recent survey carried out by Randstadt shows that seven out of 10 Spaniards are currently prepared to change city to find a job, an increase of seven percentage points in just two years. More than 80 percent of those surveyed said that the principal reason for their change of mind was economic. Among those prepared to move, 52 percent would still prefer to remain in Spain; a fifth of them would prefer to stay in the EU. In gender terms, 72 percent of men, compared to 66 percent of women, were prepared to move away from home to find work. "When it comes to moving to another city in Spain, Madrid and Barcelona are still the main destinations, but we are also seeing notable movement to Seville, Valencia and Bilbao," says Ollonarte. "This isn't simply a question of packing your bags and turning up somewhere new on spec. What normally happens is that people take a good look at the market and ask people they know. And of course it is important to be prepared to travel for interviews," he says.

Raquel Izurzu, a trainee architect who is 25, moved from Pamplona to Madrid in May. But in July, she was already contemplating moving again. "I finished university and went to Madrid to work as an intern for three months. I wasn't being paid, but I wanted the work experience," she says. "The plan was to stay in Madrid; I'm not exactly excited about the idea of going abroad. But there is no work here, so I'll have to go," she says. She has already looked at the opportunities in London, as well as China. "But in the end, I think I'll probably go to Peru. I have spoken to some friends who are architects working there, and they say there are a lot of opportunities." She says that most of her friends and former colleagues at university have already made the move. "Everybody has gone abroad, everybody I knew at university. There is no future here, professionally speaking," she says. "When you leave, you know that there is always a possibility that you won't be coming back. It's tough. But the way things are at the moment, I would rather give up my home than my career. I don't have anything to keep me here: no kids, no home, no financial ties... It's just a question of packing my bags," she says.

Among the government's recent changes to labor market legislation are measures that will make many people think seriously about moving for work reasons: if their company relocates in an effort to reduce costs and they do not want to move, they will be entitled to less redundancy compensation.

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