Spanish Immigration in Edinburgh, a Challenge for Integration

The Spanish economic crisis intensified the migration abroad, particularly to European and Latin American countries. Despite the recession, the Scottish job market offered some opportunities for the young unemployed Spaniards. In the United Kingdom, just after London, Edinburgh has become the second destination for young Spanish people, hosting almost 30,000 of them. A sociological study urges institutions to be more involved in the integration of the this community in Scotland.


Jordi Albacete      

Spain has experienced different wav[cml_media_alt id='1805']People with suitcases (8)[/cml_media_alt]es of migration, the last one started in 2010. High-educated people from a middle class background because of a lack of job opportunities in their home country decided to find new opportunities, mainly in central and northern Europe but also in Latin American countries.

[cml_media_alt id='1920']Emigrantes[/cml_media_alt]Their social class and aspirations have little to do with the last big migration wave from the 1960s when almost 2 million poor working class people (frequently unqualified peasants (1)) left the country to work in factories in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland or France.  

Over recent years, language and job prospects have made the United Kingdom a top country to settle in (2). In 2013, Spanish people became the third nationality for new immigration in the UK, just after Romanians and Poles, according to the UK Social Security’s statistics.  

Scotland alone, with a population of 5,313,600,  received 13, 700 new Spanish immigrants in 2012, most of them averaging 22 -23 years old, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Unemployment in Spain and the United Kingdom

  • In a year and a half (from 2012 to the first half of 2014 ) 2 million residents in Spain left the country (¾ of them were non-born  and 1/4 of them were natives). According to Eurostat, in 2011 the youth unemployment in Spain stood at a 46.2% while in the United Kingdom was at 21.1% .
  • In 2014 in the United Kingdom that figure improved relatively, descending to a 19.7%, but conversely in Spain this figure kept increasing reaching  54.9% .
  • The rate of unemployment in Edinburgh is 3.9%.  This is Below the Scottish average of 5.4% .

                              In 2012 the Spanish Consulate estimated an outstanding figure of 30,000 Spanish residents in Edinburgh, which has a population of under 600,000 inhabitants. This finding confirms that the Scottish capital is the second favourite destination for Spaniards.

Edinburgh’s Economic Profile

[cml_media_alt id='1798']Edinburgh (1)[/cml_media_alt]Most of the new to Scotland, had expectations of improving  their working conditions (3) in Edinburgh. However, the labour market of this city is very specialized and their access to it is not easy.

  • Edinburgh has the second highest economic activity after London, having 43% of its workers qualified. Value added per employee is the highest of all the United Kingdom after London (around 60,000 pounds).
  • The main economic sectors in Edinburgh are: finances; scientific research; higher education and tourism.
  • The financial service industry makes Edinburgh the headquarters  for banks and insurance companies such as: the Bank of Scotland and the Bank Royal of Scotland; the Bank Group Tesco; or the Virgin Group.
  • Tourism drives the local economy. Edinburgh’s architecture qualifies the city as a World Heritage site. Its stunning landscape, green areas, the Castle  and old town right in the city centre are major attractions of the city. It draws (4) 4.4 million tourists and brings in 100 million pounds to the local economy. Because of its cultural appeal and high tourist attraction, Edinburgh is often compared to Barcelona.
  • Edinburgh as the Scottish capital city,creates employment opportunities in the public service.

Needs for Cultural Integration

[cml_media_alt id='1286']Flyer.El puente[/cml_media_alt]The Adult Learning Project (ALP) carried out transformative adult education based on the Pedagogy of the Oppressed of Paulo Freire, with a range of classes; projects; events and pieces of local and city-wide (5) research. They started to worry about the integration of the Spanish speaking community living in Edinburgh, what they needed and how to supply them with the necessary tools to integrate them and make the most of this coexistence. They used to support El Punto (a free service for advice and help for Spanish immigrants, which they managed themselves).

In 2013-2014 three Spanish researchers were commissioned by ALP to carry out extensive research into the experiences and needs of the Spanish community in Edinburgh.  As a consequence they developed a very detailed (103 page) report analysing the integration of Spanish residents in the city of Edinburgh since 2011 and indicating possible interventions that could be made to improve this situation. ALP funded and supported the research of El Puente, The New Spanish Community in Edinburgh. Situation and Needs, delivering and disseminating this research to the Scottish society. Last February they presented their findings in Edinburgh City Chambers.

[youtube height=”750″ width=”795″]PLACE_LINK_HERE[/youtube]

In this study they used 6 focus groups composed of Scottish and Spanish people, aged between 18 and 35 years. This confirmed the profile of these new immigrants -young, middle class background, highly qualified and doing unqualified jobs (kitchen assistants, domestic employees and waiters), non fluent English speakers, often unaware of their new working class status. This new profile was well portrayed In a Foreign Land (2014) by world known director Iciar Bollaín who lives in Edinburgh.

[youtube height=”750″ width=”795″]PLACE_LINK_HERE[/youtube]

[cml_media_alt id='2096']Unknown Station[/cml_media_alt]Despite their new working class status, just a few of them got in touch with trade unions or took part in working class movements. For many of them their social environment in Spain is far from these struggles. The unrecognition of social class contributes to the marginalisation of these immigrants. “We did everything that we are supposed to do to have a future,” said one of the participants in the discussion of the study groups.

“We did everything that we were supposed to do to have a future”

One of the issues that this research reveals is the lack of institutional protection provided by the Spanish authorities on the integration of migrants. The study argues that the lack of adequate involvement from Spanish and Scottish institutions means immigrants are left in a vulnerable situation when trying to integrate in the job market and social networks. This leads immigrants to rely on exclusively Spanish networks. Therefore the study urges institutions to play a more active role in the integration of these immigrants. The analysis also reviews where are the main inefficiencies in the different models for immigrant integration in Europe.

The French and the British Models of Cultural Integration, two different approaches

Within the EU there are different traditions for the representation of immigrant groups. Two of the models most competitive are the French and the British.

[cml_media_alt id='1799']Untitled (Part 2)[/cml_media_alt]The French model is based on assimilation of French civil principles, which are embedded in the Constitution. Foreigners have to foster them. The French model is based on the idea of egalitarianism, which grants citizenship to all the members a unique and homogeneous public space.

This approach to cultural integration is criticised because some believe that it segregates other cultures and religions, especially Islam. As it has been seen in the Charlie Hebdo’s post scenario in Paris, last February.

[cml_media_alt id='1921']article-1249823-0838A5DB000005DC-530_468x286[/cml_media_alt]The British model, adopts a multicultural perspective. Its approach for integration is indirect. This means that cultural diversity of values and religion in public life are protected, giving institutional rights. In contrast to the French model public space is not homogenous but diverse.

The ethnic minority is organized and represented in the public sphere in Britain. New immigrants often lack relevant knowledge about how society works in Britain. In fact, the higher criticism is the lack of awareness about class, society and power in British society segregates immigrants from others and into a position that lacks power, influence, social solidarity and political representation.

Another downside in the British system is the lack of representation for Western immigrants, particularly European. Policies of integration in the United Kingdom are strongly focused on ensuring the integration of ethnic diversity. Only existing policies in this area are the recognition of the rights of refugees, as published in a study about immigration and integration of Saggar and Sommerville in 2012.

In general the EU has respected each country’s integration policy and subsidiary principle. However, the EU has increasingly acquired more power in immigration controls, relating to the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997.

In this respect,  the EU wants to promote intercultural, and equitable access to institutions, public goods and private, as well as the services such as education and the importance of knowledge of the language, history, institutions and access to participation in political life.

Source: Casado, I. et al. (2013) The New Spanish Community in Edinburgh. Situation and Needs. El Puente.

Proposals for Better Integration

[cml_media_alt id='2061']communication painting_Flickr DailyPic[/cml_media_alt]

There are two main overarching (5) proposals for the integration of the Spanish speaking community in Scotland: on one hand, to tackle the language  barrier, and on the other, to make all the information resources available to Spaniards.

El Puente urges institutions to be more proactive in the integration of the Spaniards living in Edinburgh. For example, language has been identified as one of the main barriers to better integration and more professional job opportunities.

The study suggests that this problem should be reviewed.  It  argues that it should offer courses that are more specialised and job oriented according to the immigrant’s skills and qualifications. Authorities should play a part (7) and clearly advertise all the current job opportunities that could match their abilities and expertise.

In conclusion, effective integration is a long journey where all passengers need to be willing to reach the same destination. Individuals, institutions, public authorities, small companies, charities, etc. need to play a part. International Solidarity has always been valued and  acclaimed in the working class movement and should be at the heart of it. Ultimately as the study pointed out integration is a matter of shared responsibility between the Spanish immigrants in the first place but equally the European, Spanish and Scottish institutions, the Scottish Society. In a welcoming, friendly and cosmopolitan society such as the Scottish society this should be an easy task. Everyone is responsible for this enriching journey.

Participating in and Supporting the Already- Established Associations and Collectives

In November 2013, ELREC organised, in partnership with Alba Spanish Association, an event in which several kinds of groups  (cultural, artistic and educational amongst others) took the opportunity to explain their activities to some institutional representatives from the City of Edinburgh, such as the police and the City Council, and create a dialogue with them. In February, 2015 El Puente presented the conclusions obtained during the research about the motivations and expectations of the Spanish people when arriving in Edinburgh and the experiences and barriers of integration, paying special attention to their specific needs. The aim of this presentation was not just to share the research, but to try to build solutions through bringing together different associations, charities, councillors and representatives from authorities, both Spanish and Scottish, who are interested in this issue. The idea was for people to talk about their different points of view and to begin to formulate a plan for political, theoretical and practical action.


[cml_media_alt id='1994']302994_236068646454335_1899542775_n[/cml_media_alt]     ALBA (Spanish Association ALBA) was  created in 2011 by bilingual families living in Edinburgh, to promote the use of Spanish and establish bonds between the Spanish speaking community living in Edinburgh and their families.


[cml_media_alt id='1857']Adult-Learning-Project (1)[/cml_media_alt]The Adult Learning Project (ALP) carries out transformative adult education based on the Pedagogy of the Oppressed of Paulo Freire, with a range of classes; projects; events and pieces of local and city-wide research.


[cml_media_alt id='1998']25896_115428635137476_7799485_n[/cml_media_alt]CinemaAttic is the platform for Spanish, Iberian and Latin-American cinema in Scotland. Their main purpose is to bridge the expressive quality of young filmmakers from national cinemas such as      Spanish, Latin-American or Portuguese with the wealth of British organizations.


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Cosmopolita Scotland is a monthly newspaper, bilingual and independent, published from Scotland. We aim to integrate the Spanish speaking community in Scotland with the Scottish society. To do this  we will adapt and analyse information based on current affairs from the Scottish and the Spanish speaking world.


Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council (ELREC) [cml_media_alt id='1839']ELREC[/cml_media_alt]promotes equality of opportunity for all; fights discrimination; promotes a culture of human rights; fosters good relations in our communities; and promotes cooperation and partnership to meets its aims.



[cml_media_alt id='1996']581040_266250170163223_271893477_n[/cml_media_alt]Hispanic Arts Scotland (HAS) is an arts and cultural non-profit company whose main objective is to promote collaborations between Spanish, Latin American and Scottish artists.


[cml_media_alt id='2004']11110805_655101547855418_5687930388181392431_n[/cml_media_alt]IberoDocs is the first showcase for Ibero-American culture in Scotland, focused on documentary films by Spanish, Portuguese and Latin-American filmmakers.

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In Fact Edinburgh is an online local media destined to Spanish speakers living in Edinburgh, as well as to native people interested in the local news. One of the main goals of this site, created by two journalists from Barcelona established in Edinburgh, is to break the language barriers that most of the immigrants find when moving to a new city.


People Know How[cml_media_alt id='1917']10314592_638551026226124_6501502082588262472_n[/cml_media_alt], is a charity that promotes social change by consulting and engaging actively with people. Currently PKW are trying to organise the event that will gather individuals and groups, charities, associations, services, etc. t to integrate the Spanish speaking community.


[cml_media_alt id='1841']PIE[/cml_media_alt]Spanish Information Point (Punto de Información en Español, PIE ),  which gives free legal information  (Scottish and British law) for citizenship rights, not only for Spaniards but also for Latin Americans, with specific information for VISAS, work permits, etc.).

[cml_media_alt id='2002']163134_186046161425616_1626913_n[/cml_media_alt]El Punto, settled in Tollcross Community Centre, is an organization started up by Spanish speakers with the support of the ALP. It tries to construct a platform of reference from which the Spanish-speaking group could know better the new environment, to look for help, to face the possible problems and to defend their rights.



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Teléfono de la esperanza UK. Prevencion y promocion de la salud emocional de los hispanos-lusos hablantes en el Reino Unido



Vamos Scotland[cml_media_alt id='1859']banner_vamos_scotland[/cml_media_alt], is another organisation that supports financially Spanish self-employed entrepreneurs.



[cml_media_alt id='2014']download[/cml_media_alt]Volunteer Centre  Edinburgh offers information in Spanish about volunteer opportunities. On Wednesdays from 13:00 to 15:00.


[cml_media_alt id='2000']541522_590668814295141_101194579_n[/cml_media_alt]Vivir Edimburgo was created by Spanish people and is written in Spanish, gathers information and indications step by step on housing, work, English learning and cultural and leisure activities in Edinburgh.


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The Welcoming, is another organisation that offers free social events, health and well-being advice, volunteering opportunities, free English lessons and many other free services.



Use of English for Spanish Speakers

(1) Peasants. 

  • Definition: 
  1. a member of a class of small farmers of low social rank, as in Europe :tried to unify the workers and peasants.
  2. an uneducated person lacking in good manners.
  • Example: “[…] almost 2 million poor working class people (frequently unqualified peasants)” ([…] casi dos millones de personas de clase trabajadora pobre (frecuentemente campesinos sin estudios)
  • Translation: Campesinos.
  • Comment: Peasant has slightly a negative connotation than a farmer (meaning living in poverty and having a low level of literacy)

(2) To settle in. 

  • Definition:to take up residence in (a place).
  • Example: Over recent years, language and job prospects have made the United Kingdom a top country to settle in. (“En los últimos años, debido al idioma y a las oportunidades laborales el Reino se ha convertido en un destino prioritario para establecerse“). 
  • Translation: Establecerse.

(3) Working conditions. 

  • Definition: The conditions in which an individual or staff works, including but not limited to such things as amenities, physical environment, stress and noise levels, degree of safety or danger, and the like. Read more:
  • Example: Most of the new to Scotland, had expectations of improving  their working conditions in Edinburgh. (La mayoría de los recién llegados a Escocia, tenían expectativas de mejorar sus condiciones de trabajo en Edimburgo”.
  • Translation: condiciones en las que se realiza un trabajo.
  • Comment: Spanish speakers do not use work conditions.

(4) To draw. 

  • Definition: to bring.
  • Example: Tourism […] draws 4.4 million tourists. (“El turismo trae 4,4 millones de turistas“).
  • Translation: traer.

(5) City-wide. 

  • Translation: a lo ancho de la ciudad.
  • Comment: it is an easy compound to use. It is an alternative for across the city or all over the city.

(6) Overarching.

  • Definition: encompassing or overshadowing everything.
  • Example: “There are two main overarching proposals for the integration of the Spanish speaking community in Scotland”. (“Hay dos grandes propuestas primordiales que engloban la integración de la comunidad castellanohablante en Escocia“).
  • Translation:de amplio alcance, englobante, de amplio espectro.
  • Comment: Often used in the academia for “overarching concepts or principles”

(7) Playing a part. 

  • Definition:to participate.
  • Example: Authorities should play a part. (“Las autoridades deberían participar”).
  • Translation: participar.

Autor: Jordi Albacete

I am an environmental journalist. My passion for the protection of human and environmental rights has been inspired by research led journalism. My ambition is to communicate and inspire people to make positive changes in the environment. Twitter @albacetejordi or Linkedin.

Periodista medioambiental. Mi pasión por la protección de los derechos humanos y medioambientales se ha forjado a través de la investigación periodística. Mi objetivo es comunicar e inspirar a la gente para hacer cambios positivos y proteger el medioambiente. Twitter @albacetejordi o Linkedin.

2 opiniones en “Spanish Immigration in Edinburgh, a Challenge for Integration”

  1. Los españoles solo vienen a edinburgo a quejarse todo el tiempo, y decir que todo es caro que el clima es una mierda, que la comida es una mierda, y siempre se hacen las victimas, PERO PARA BEBER EN BARES LATINOS HAY LOS VEMOS A TODOS ELLOS , principalmente a los que se quejan de que todo es caro bebiendo todos los dias o todos los fines de semana en el mismo bar 😉 , no se hagan tanto las victimas POR FAVOR , EN LOS PAISES LATINOAMERICANOS TENEMOS MAS PROBLEMAS Y VIVIMOS EN OTROS PAISES Y NO NOS HACEMOS LAS VICTIMAS COMO USTEDES!!!

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