The problem with similarity: Ethnic-affinity migrants in Spain

David Cook-Martín, Anahí Viladrich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Politics that give a privileged migratory or citizenship status to individuals abroad because of presumed common origins with a granting state's people foster the expectation that ethnic affinity facilitates social and economic integration. However, a growing literature has documented a mismatch between the social and the economic expectations of people defined as co-ethnics by these policies. Relying on a study of Spanish-descent Argentines who have 'returned' to Spain, we argue that the effect of perceived ethnic affinities varies by social context. While ethnic similarity with natives may offer an advantage to migrants in search of housing or educational opportunities, it can hinder entry to the job market. From an employer's standpoint, what makes 'traditional' immigrants suited to these positions is their willingness to put up with low wages and poor working conditions in anticipation of future economic and status payoffs in the homeland. To the extent that ethnic-affinity migrants are oriented primarily to the local economic and status structure, their access to entry-level jobs may be impeded and/or they may be forced to compete with natives for skilled or professional jobs precisely because they are not different in the sense valued by employers. In a concluding section, we measure insights gleaned from the Spanish case against the experiences of ethnic Germans and Japanese-descent Brazilians and conclude that ethnic-affinity migrants' orientations are shaped by the terms on which policies allow access to destination countries and to citizenship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-170
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009


  • Citizenship policy
  • Ethnicity
  • Labour market
  • Local-level policies
  • Migration policy
  • Spain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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