Spain’s Population Shrinks For First Time In History As Immigrants Flee Crisis

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The population of Spain fell by 206,000 people last year amid record high unemployment and weak economic growth, reported the National Statistics Institute on Monday, marking the first time Spain has seen a population decline since official records began in 1857.

According to provisional figures, as cited by Reuters, the drop was entirely accounted for by a fall in the number of registered foreign residents, mostly from Spain's former colonies in Latin America; though the number of native Spaniards managed to grow by 10,337 last year.

The National Statistics Institute further noted that this was the second straight year that the number of immigrants living in the country had fallen, following a population boom between 2000 and 2010, when the immigrant population swelled from 924,000 to 5.7 million.

"There was extraordinary growth (in immigrants) from 2000 to 2009, which is reversing quickly due to the economic crisis," said demographer Albert Esteve of the Barcelona Centre for Demographic Studies.

"Spain is less attractive (now) because there are no jobs,” he added.

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According to a BBC report, the latest figures do not take into account Spaniards who have left the country in search of work but are still on the census. With Spain’s unemployment rate soaring to 26 percent, and youth unemployment at close to 50 percent, analysts say that the number of residents could be lower as many Spaniards are now working abroad.

In an effort to lure foreign investors, and sell off hundreds of thousands of unsold property left over from the nation’s 2008 real estate bubble, the Spanish government last year also announced tentative plans to offer automatic residency permits to any foreigner who buys a house priced at more than 160,000 euros ($203,845).

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Spain’s Trade Ministry Secretary, Jaime García-Legaz, said that the government intended to target Russian and Chinese investors, who presently face difficulties in buying a house in Spain, as they were not European Union residents.

Nevertheless, the latest National Statistics Institute figures demonstrate Spain’s weakening appeal as a result of the economic crisis. The Spanish economy, the eurozone's fourth-largest, contracted by 1.4 percent last year, the second worst yearly slump since 1970.