Many Latin American Immigrants Opting for Spain The Spanish government's attempts to help immigrants make the most of the money they earn — and ease the process of sending funds back home — are leading many Latin American immigrants to work in Spain instead of the United States. Last year, immigrants in Spain sent home $5 billion.
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Many Latin American Immigrants Opting for Spain

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Many Latin American Immigrants Opting for Spain

Many Latin American Immigrants Opting for Spain

Many Latin American Immigrants Opting for Spain

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12555928/12555929" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa hugs two Ecuadorian workers after he paid a visit to a bakery in Valencia, Spain, last month. Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa hugs two Ecuadorian workers after he paid a visit to a bakery in Valencia, Spain, last month.

Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images

The Spanish government's attempts to help immigrants make the most of the money they earn — and ease the process of sending funds and material back home — are leading many Latin American immigrants to Spain instead of the United States.

A shared language certainly eases the process of finding a place to work and live. But experts say Spain is also one of the countries doing the most to help immigrants integrate economically.

Last year, Latin Americans in Spain sent $5 billion in remittances to their home countries. That is almost as much as Latin America as a whole received in aid from the IMF, World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank combined.

The IDB estimates that about 1 billion people worldwide depend on remittances they get from family members working abroad. The bank says it wants more countries, including the United States, to follow Spain's lead and make life easier for those working abroad.

In the past six years, Spain's foreign-born population has more than quadrupled, to nearly 4 million people.

At one of the many call centers in Madrid that cater to foreign workers, Edwin Pauta recently paid for a call to his parents back home in Ecuador. He and the cashier, who's also from Ecuador, both say they feel at home in Spain, especially when it comes to the soccer game playing on the cashier's TV.

"Is that Barcelona playing?" Pauta asks. "That's my team."

Six years ago, Pauta had a choice: to go to the United States or Spain. He says that now, he has no regrets about coming to Madrid.

He works hard. By day, he's a fumigator at a pest control company. At night, he's a maintenance man in the subway system. But in Spain, Pauta has been able to take advantage of the easy credit options that are available to any Spanish citizen.

"They give you really good terms," Pauta said in Spanish. "That's why I have an apartment that I bought a year ago. I just had to show my work contract and wage slip and I got it immediately."

A recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank, or IDB, found that a majority of Latin American emigrants are starting to choose Europe, and in particular Spain, over the United States.

Experts say one of the main reasons is the emergence of an entire industry of financial services catering to immigrants.

Ecuadorians are the biggest group of Latin Americans in Spain. And in Madrid and Barcelona, there are shops where they can pay for appliances and have them delivered to an address in Ecuador. One company is test-marketing ATMs that allow users to pay for grocery purchases, medical treatment or cell phones in Ecuador.

Lucia Jimenez recently visited a branch of Mundocredit, an immigrant bank set up by one of Spain's largest banks. It offers no-commission money transfers and the option of getting a mortgage in Spain for a home in Latin America.

Jimenez said that she is thinking about getting life insurance that she can eventually take back to her native country, Paraguay.

For now, though, she's just using her bank account to buy guaranies, the Paraguayan currency, to send back to her children.

Some immigrants may still send cash in envelopes or wire it to their families. But experts say channeling remittances through the banking system gives workers more leverage. That way, they can finance purchases of homes and cars, and make other investments.

Jimenez says the remittances she sends are better than official government-to-government aid projects.

"No matter how marvelous and well-designed the projects are, in the end the money disappears," she said in Spanish. "Especially in my country, Paraguay — it's one of the most corrupt countries in the world."

And many experts agree. They say remittances like those being sent home by Jimenez are more effective at helping a Third World country's progress than traditional development aid.