Remittances sent back by Spaniards living abroad have surpassed those sent out of the country by immigrants living in Spain for the first time in a decade as a result of a wave of emigration sparked by the economic crisis, which has also prompted increasing numbers of foreign workers to move back home.
According to figures from the Bank of Spain, remittances received by Spain in the second quarter of this year totaled a record 1.591 billion euros, while remittances by foreign workers amounted to 1.563 billion, leaving a positive balance in Spain's favor of 28 million euros - the first time this has been the case since 2003.
Immigrants were drawn to the vibrant Spanish economy by jobs mainly in the booming construction industry and the hostelry sector. But since the crisis broke in 2008, the real estate bubble has burst, helping to propel Spain into what has come to be called the Great Recession in 2009. After a brief and timid period of stabilization, the economy fell back into what has become its longest downturn in some 50 years.
With rampant unemployment the bleakest outcome of the crisis, increasing numbers of Spanish workers have moved overseas in search of a better life. Almost 60,000 emigrated last year, while only 32,380 Spaniards returned. In the same year, 135,045 foreign workers residing in Spain left the country.
The Spanish population shrunk by 113,902 in 2012, or 0.2 percent, the first fall in the number of inhabitants since at least 1971, the year the current statistics series began.
The number of immigrants in Spain dropped by 2.3 percent to 5.1 million. According to the National Statistics Institute, there are also now 1.9 million Spaniards living abroad, six percent more than in 2011.
Spain was a net recipient of remittances in the period 1990-2003. However, in 2004, during the height of the boom, the balance turned slightly negative at four million euros. In 2007, there was a record negative balance of 3.138 billion euros.
With the crisis limiting the amount of money immigrants could send home, the difference between remittances received and sent narrowed. By last year, 6.485 billion euros left Spain, while the country received 5.922 billion, for a negative balance of 563 million euros.
Also forming part of the picture is the growing phenomenon of Spanish managers being sent to work overseas by their companies in Spain, or directly employed by foreign companies.
However, the platform Remesas.org, which specializes in remittances, paints a different picture, pointing to the fact that the Bank of Spain's figures do not provide a breakdown of the countries from where remittances are sent, nor the typical profile of the Spaniards sending them.
It suggests that the typical profile of Spaniards who move abroad is that of a young qualified worker who does not earn enough to send money home, and that the bulk of the money may be being sent by naturalized Spaniards who have now returned to their countries of origin and are sending money to relatives who remain in Spain.