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Immigrant workers leave struggling Spain

By Brian Byrnes, CNN
updated 6:45 AM EST, Mon November 21, 2011
  • Argentinean workers in Spain are returning home for economic security
  • Spain hit by euro crisis has 21.5 percent unemployment; and it's more than double that for young people
  • Laura Dominguez said it was reminiscent of Argentina's 2001 financial meltdown
  • She returned to Argentina -- and some Spanish workers are following her

Buenos Aires, Argentina (CNN) -- For Laura Dominguez, nothing tastes more like home than mate tea and dulce de leche, both typically Argentine flavors that she missed during the eight years she lived in Spain.

In June, Dominguez, 36, moved back to Argentina because the economic situation in Spain was so dire that she didn't see strong prospects there for herself or her three young daughters.

Dominguez worked as a waitress in the beach resort town of Blanes in the Cataluña region. She says tourism there has dropped considerably in recent years, compared to when she first arrived in 2003 and could count on five steady months of restaurant work.

"I had a job, and I was one of the lucky few. Almost everyone I knew in Spain was unemployed," says Dominguez.

Over the past three years, the tourist season has shrunk to two months; the domestic market has virtually disappeared and it's holidaymakers from Germany and Holland who are keeping any life in the industry, she says.

"There were scores of closed businesses in Blanes. They just kept closing and closing and closing. Construction sites were paralyzed. Nearby, entire towns were abandoned. It reminded me of Argentina during our last crisis," she says.

Argentina's financial meltdown in 2001 -- when the country defaulted on $100 billion in debt -- is what sent Laura and thousands of other Argentines looking for a better life in Spain.

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The rowdy protests that took place on the streets of Buenos Aires a decade ago look similar to those currently taking place in Madrid and throughout Spain, where the latest unemployment numbers show that 21.5 percent of the Spanish population is jobless.

When Spain holds parliamentary elections Sunday, current Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will step down but, according to opinion polls, his Socialist Party is expected to be punished.

Dominguez said she made the tough decision to leave Spain and uproot her three daughters -- ages 13, 9 and 7 -- because she was afraid of ending up homeless. Even with her own country's volatile economic history, she thinks Argentina's future is brighter than its past.

"I am from a country, Argentina, which has been in crisis for the last 30 years. The Spaniards are not accustomed to living in crisis. Argentines know how to live within our means. So this crisis is affecting all Spaniards terribly," she says.

Spain and Argentina have always looked to one another in times of crisis. The largest Spanish community outside Spain resides in Argentina, and it's commonly believed that nearly half of all Argentines have Spanish blood.

These close cultural and linguistic ties have always made Spain a popular destination for Argentine immigrants seeking financial stability that Europe had traditionally offered.

But with Spain's bleak economic situation, and similar problems for its Eurozone neighbors, more and more Spaniards are now coming to Argentina. There are no official numbers on the amount of Spaniards who have immigrated to Argentina in recent years, but officials at the Spanish Embassy in Buenos Aires concede it is on the rise.

"I came to Buenos Aires because I lost my job in Madrid more than a year ago, and the situation in Spain is getting worse by the day. So I decided to try to take a different path and try my luck here," says makeup artist Paula Riofrio, 30.

Riofrio arrived in September on a one-way plane ticket, and said she has already had several promising interviews for makeup and hair styling work in the Argentine fashion industry.

"We were always used to seeing Argentines move to Spain, but now it is the other way around. And honestly, I think more and more Spaniards will be coming here soon," says Riofrio.

For Laura Dominguez, the decision to return home to Argentina has already been a good one. She found a full-time job at a well-known international bank, and is confident she will soon be able to afford to move her family out of her parent's apartment and into a place of their own.

"I feel lucky that I have a job and feel confident things will work out here for my family. But I will always love Spain and I hope it can recover soon," says Dominguez.

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