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Immigrants boosting Spanish economy

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Immigrants to Spain are emerging as a powerful new force in the Spanish economy, raising demand for housing, which in turn is sustaining the country's construction boom.

Spain's rising divorce rate is the catalyst for the increased demand for housing, with more than one in five marriages now ending in separation or divorce. According to real estate studies, the divorce rate is generating an additional 140,000 homes being built each year.

With the rising demand for housing, increased demand for skilled immigrant construction workers has also risen. The flow on effect of increased immigration to Spain, has led to an even greater housing demand.

Angel Berges, a partner at Analistas Financieros Internacionales, estimates immigrants will buy some 170,000 homes in Spain this year, almost one quarter of the total demand for new houses.

Since 2000, the number of immigrants to Spain has grown to 4 million, making up nine percent of the total population. An amnesty last year awarded work permits and residency to almost 700,000 illegal immigrants.

Fincas Corral, an estate agent, says that only 16% of immigrants are home owners, which means that the potential for home ownership among the immigrant population remains untapped.

"There is no risk of a property crash in Spain in the short or medium term thanks to new demand generated by immigrants," said the agent.

The Flores de Lemus Institute of the University of Madrid, reports the construction boom is not sustainable in the medium to long term, and urges the government to introduce labour training programmes for immigrants after construction demands level out.

The institute also warns that Spain's lop-sided labour market, with a third of the immigrant workforce on short-term contracts, is a barrier to increasing labour productivity, as employers had few incentives to train temporary foreign workers.