ESSAY: Spanish language diploma key to Filipinos’ legal stay

 by Jeremaiah M. Opiniano

OFW Journalism Consortium


BARCELONA, Spain—PAPERLESS Filipino workers here each got pieces of paper hoping that these help them regularize their immigration status in Spain and in the country’s Catalan region.

“Good thing the passport number [in my diploma] is correct,” said irregular migrant Julia (not her real name) after shaking hands with her teachers and with officials of the Church-run Centro Filipino Tuluyan San Benito that has been running thrice-a-year idioma (language) classes for 20 years.

Her diploma, printed in a white, ordinary A4 bond paper, certified that Julia finished a certain nivel (level) of Spanish language instruction.

There had been increasing demands for slots in Centro Filipino’s idioma classes, says Centro president Paulita Astillero, given new regulations that a migrant cannot renew one’s residency permit without knowledge of Spanish (and, in the case of the Calatunya region where Barcelona is, Catalan).

This diploma is one of the required documents Filipino workers submit to a nearby Oficina de Extranjeros (Foreigners Office) when irregular migrants apply for regularization, and when legal migrants renew their residence permits or seek Spanish nationality, explains Centro President Paulita Astillero.

Legal Filipino workers apply for an arraigo social by submitting: the language diploma; a criminal record certificate (certificado de antecedents penale) from either the origin country or country of work five years prior to arriving in Spain; the Philippine passport; the empadronamiento which proves they’ve lived in Spain for at least three years; a work contract signed by an employer and with at least one year’s work; the padron (residence certificate) and some papers attesting family ties with other resident foreigners.

Irregular workers who worked in Spain for at least a year, on the other hand, try to undergo a process called arraigo laboral (individual amnesty). Apart from the language diploma, arraigo laboral applicants are also required the empadronamiento, the certificado de antecedents penale, and a proof they were not barred from entering any European Union-member country.

Since the Philippines is a former colony of Spain, they are required at least two years of legally residing in Spain should they wish to apply for Spanish nationality “by residence”.

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas estimates Filipinos in Spain to number 51,268, including 4,055 irregular migrants.

However, the Spain census doesn’t offer a breakdown of the number of Filipinos in Barcelona and other provinces in Spain.



BUT handing out diplomas for Filipino workers’ documentary needs wasn’t the original intention of Centro Filipino’s language program.

Astillero said when she and Centro founder Fr. Avelino Sapida started this program in 1991, the aim was to make Filipinos feel they are at the same level as the Spanish people, especially through integration in Spanish society.

In the book titled Brick by Brick: Building Cooperation between the Philippines and Migrants’ Associations in Italy and Spain, Dr. Edelia Soler wrote that the first Filipino settlement developed after politicians, businessmen and students arrived in Madrid and Barcelona.

Later on, Filipinos working as servicemen for United States military bases in Spain added to the community.

Some of them, Soler wrote, were hired for domestic work.

Since many Filipino workers here work in restaurants and hotels as waiters (camarero) and as domestic workers (or doing work “sa bahay,” as the Filipinos call it here), learning Spanish is a means for them to defend themselves and their rights, she adds.

“We don’t want to be called a ghetto community,” Astillero told the OFW Journalism Consortium, referring to the instance that Filipinos always like to be with themselves only.

The influx of many Filipino workers here (including those who passed through irregular and regular migration channels from other areas), as well as recent documentary requirements by the Spanish government, simply swelled enrolment in the idioma classes.

Classes are held at Colegio Escola Pia in Ronda San Antoni, the Church of San Agustin in Plaza San Agustin, and at Centro Filipino’s office in Carrer Reira Baja.

Over-200 of these Filipino workers, many of whom have expired documents, recently got these diplomas in graduation rites last April 9 at Colegio Escola Pia.

But while many of them have finished nivel (level) 0, Astillero notices the majority still cannot speak fluent Spanish and got stuck at basic words and phrases like me llamo (“call on somebody”), yo soy (“I am”), and como estas (“how are you?”).

Which is why Centro, in recent years, got Spanish teachers for the other classes so that Filipinos are “forced” to speak Spanish.

Filipino and Spanish teachers of these 40-hour, twice-a-week classes are all volunteers: eight Filipinos taught nivel 0 Spanish, three Spanish volunteers for basico 1, one Spaniard for basico 2, and one Spaniard for Catalan (a mix of Spanish, French and Italian that’s spoken in Spain’s Catalan region) for the January to April 2011 batch.

For his part, Fr. Sapida said tongue-tied Filipino workers are like “dead people” given their inability to speak Spanish and then Catalan.

If you learn the language,” Sapida adds, “then you can assert yourself and employers won’t bully you anymore.”#