More Spaniards arrive every year in Birmingham to escape from an unemployment rate of 21%, a huge percentage compared to the West Midlands rate, which has fallen to 5,7%.
Tapas bars are almost the only evidence of a Spanish community in Birmingham, but there are already about 1,000 Spaniards living in the city, according to the Office for National Statistics*.
María, 45, is from Madrid and arrived in Birmingham in September to study an MSc in Business Intelligence. She prefers to use a nickname, because she doesn’t want to be recognised.
We met in her student accommodation. María is unemployed since October 2013, when she left her job after 7 years. She explained why:
“I was overqualified for the position and it wasn’t my field at all.”
For the last year, she has been looking for a job, but either the vacancies were not appropriate or the salary was far too low, considering her qualification.
She decided to study an MA in the UK to find a new opportunity. When she finishes her master, she wants to stay:
“Here the job market works well. I am not saying that all the salaries are high, but there are options.”
María has a degree in Computer Science, an MA in Intelligence Analysis and more than 14 years of work experience in two big Spanish companies. She said she felt discriminated for her age:
“In the Spanish job market I am an old woman. My experience has no value.”
The situation is not much better for younger generations. According to the Spanish Central Bank, the unemployment rate for people aged 20-29 is 33,6%.
Natàlia Meré, 22, is from Girona, a town 100 kilometres north of Barcelona. We met in a pub near Brindley Place.
She arrived in the UK one year ago to do an Erasmus exchange as part of her degree in International Business Economics.
Natàlia found a job in Birmingham as a sales executive and administrator as part of a graduate program.
She said the company wanted her to stay and promote her as a business manager in six months.
“The company trusts me and I appreciate that someone has given me the opportunity to prove what I can do. I wouldn’t have the same options back home.”
Between 2008, when the financial crisis started in Spain, and 2015, the number of Spaniards that moved to the UK increased by 34%.
Fátima Báñez, former Spanish Minister of Employment, said that Spaniard who went abroad to work were following an “adventurous impulse”.
María sees the situation in a quite different light:
“The job centre offered me a course in metal fabrications. I still don’t know what that is. Every year, more Spaniards are leaving the country, because they are overqualified for the job market”.
Natàlia agrees with María that the job market does not work. For her, staying in Girona would mean living at family home and not to be independent.
“At home I would have to live with my parents, because I would earn a low salary in a job without any perspective.”
Natàlia misses her family and friends, but she is optimistic about her future in Birmingham.
“People here change their jobs easily. All depends on your aspirations”.
María, too, is convinced that she will find an opportunity in Birmingham at the end of her master.
“I am here to start from scratch. Sometimes I feel tired, but what I am not going to do is to stay at home complaining. I am sure that at the end of this year I will be working”.
*Last data available from 2013