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Serious Commitment

A drain on society or a vital stimulant for economic growth? Views on immigration are divided. Wolters Kluwer is promoting knowledge of local laws as a powerful force for successful social cohesion

Immigration is a hot political and social issue across Europe, especially as the economic crisis in many countries puts pressure on jobs and public resources. Spain has suffered one of its sharpest downturns in decades. Although now showing tentative signs of recovery, unemployment remains at over 26%.

Given these economic woes, it is all the more impressive that Spain’s rapid growth in immigration over the last decade hasn’t been more socially divisive. In this time, the country’s foreign-born population has increased dramatically, from less than 4% of the total population to almost 14%. And yet the country is recognized as having one of the best records in Europe for successfully integrating its immigrant communities.

How has this been done? A pioneering initiative by the  Wolters Kluwer Foundation has played an important role. A program called ‘Conoce tus leyes’ ( Know Your Law), started by Wolters Kluwer together with the Regional Government of Madrid recognized a fundamental factor that helps communities live and work together successfully: understanding the law.

Pablo Gómez-Tavira, General Director of Immigration for the Regional Government of Madrid says the city’s immigrant population has risen faster than that of many other European cities over the last decade, making the smooth integration of different communities a particular challenge.

166 Different Nationalities
Encouraging a common understanding of the law can play a key role, he says, especially when dealing with citizens of 166 different nationalities. “Many people who move to Spain from abroad ignore Spanish culture, our customs, and legal system. With so many coming to Madrid in such a short time, we face a great number of people who need to know their legal rights and obligations. Wolters Kluwer has played an outstanding role in helping us achieve that.”

The program is the first in Spain – and Europe – to help immigrant communities better understand the laws of their adopted country: teaching them the fundamentals of Spanish Law, their main rights and duties, and how they are regulated by the Spanish legal rules. It also helps them find work and settle into the community, teaching local social skills, tips for tackling job interviews, and some introductory language training.

Completing the program helps participants gain a certificate of settlement in Spain and, ultimately, the proof of social integration they need to be granted nationality. Not surprisingly, this makes it a hot ticket for thousands of immigrants every year, with participation accelerating sharply. Since it began in 2009, no fewer than 28,500 people have completed the course, with 13,000 in 2013 alone.

Partner in Social Responsibility
Rosalina Díaz Valcárel, president of the Wolters Kluwer Foundation, explains how it all started.

“When we began the project, a quarter of Madrid’s four million population were immigrants. We thought their integration would be much easier if they had a better knowledge of their legal rights and obligations. We strongly believe that co-existence of different cultures is much easier when both immigrants and native communities are familiar with common legal rules. Spanish people are already very accepting of immigration, but most of all when they feel immigrants are ‘playing by the same rules’ as Spanish people.”

The success of ‘Know Your Law’ has prompted the Regional Government of Madrid to share its experience with other municipalities. Pablo Gómez-Tavira has recommended it be adopted to ease immigrant integration elsewhere in Spain, and has even presented it in Brussels with a view to extending it to other European countries. “The contribution of Wolters Kluwer has been essential,” he says. “It would have been impossible to carry out this program without them and we are extremely grateful for their support.”

As Rosalina says, “Our stakeholders now see us differently – not only as a provider of legal solutions, but as a partner for actions related to corporate social responsibility.”

Eleanor’s Story
One of the first students to complete the program, Philippines-born Eleanor Diana de León, has since become one of its most passionate supporters and a shining example of successful integration.

Eleanor emigrated from the Philippines to Spain with her husband 22 years ago, aiming to start a new life in Madrid. The couple initially planned to find domestic work together, but the reality of settling into the Spanish capital was harder than they expected. The couple could not find work together and struggled with the language.

“If you settle in a new country where you really want to build your home, it gives you a different perspective on life, including how you try to integrate into the culture you find yourself in,” says Eleanor, recalling the early days of her struggle to settle into Madrid life.

“It was hard at first, particularly with the language, but now we plan to stay in Spain. We may go back to the Philippines when we retire, but that’s still a long way off. This is now our home,” says Eleanor, who works as a sales rep with a surgical stainless steel cookware company. Her husband has also settled well, working in the restaurant sector.

Many things have helped Eleanor build her new life – including the church, charities, and other members of the Philippine community – but the ‘Know Your Law’ course played a vital practical role that in many ways helped to change her life. The value of helping immigrants better understand their adopted country had a profound influence on Eleanor and ever since she has devoted time to helping other foreign-born people adapt to life in Spain.

After completing the course, Eleanor wanted to pass on her knowledge to friends and neighbors. Since then, she has taken responsibility for helping her community’s integration even further, by becoming the local head of AFIMA, the association of Philippines immigrants in Madrid. “Once you know something, it’s better to share,” she says.

Wolters Kluwer used its close relationships with law firms and the legal departments of big companies to set up this inclusive and inspiring program. Working with the Autonomous Community of Madrid and the Madrid Bar Association, Rosalina and her team asked the lawyers for their help in teaching classes to immigrants for free. The response has been remarkable, with lawyers from over 30 firms in Madrid willing to give up part of their free time to advise and share their knowledge.

Wolters Kluwer also used its network of expert authors to create a book for the course students, and teaching materials for the lawyers. The result has made a tangible difference to the community.