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Although the origin of official Spanish statistics dates back to 1856 with the publication of the first General Statistics Act and the creation of the Comisión Estadística General del Reino, it wasn't until thirty years later that the Consejo de Ministros (Council of Ministers) entrusted the Instituto Geográfico y Estadístico (Geographical and Statistics Institute) to compile statistics on emigration and immigration by means of the Royal Orders of 26 August 1882 and 13 August 1883.

The body in charge of compiling the statistics was the Negociado de Migraciones (Migrations Division) of the Geographical and Statistics Institute which initially depended on the Ministerio de Obras Pública (Ministry of Public Works), and later on the Ministerio de Obras Públicas, Agricultura, Industria y Comercio (Ministry of Public Works, Agriculture, Industry and Commerce).

It was a census which went by various different names (as from 1912 it was called the Estadística de pasajeros por mar - Statistics on sea passengers) that was conducted annually up until the sixties, and was based on the arrivals and departures of sea passengers registered in Spanish ports. Usually they were published by the Geographical and Statistics Institute in five-yearly volumes.

As a precedent for these official statistics on passengers, we can find the computation of passports published in the Anuario Estadístico de España (Statistical Yearbook of Spain) 1860-61 and, as complementary statistical sources, two registers from the Dirección de Aduanas (Directorate of Customs) published in the Estadística de comercio exterior y navegación de España (Statistics on foreign commerce and navigation of Spain) regarding departures during the period 1886-1921.

In the official statistics on migratory movements we can find data on the departures of passengers from Spanish ports to any other port outside mainland Spain, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands. The statistics show the following information: number of passengers classified by gender, age, profession, destination country and last province of residence. The official statistics on migratory movements are comprised of the following:


-Statistics on Spanish emigration and immigration 1882-1890, 1891-95, 1896-1900, 1901-02, 1903-06, 1907-08, 1909-11. Madrid, 1891-1912.

-Statistics on sea passengers 1912-13, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917-18. Madrid, 1914-1922.

GENERAL DIRECTORATE OF STATISTICS. Statistics of sea passengers 1919. Madrid, 1923.

STATISTICS AUTHORITY. Statistics on sea passengers 1920-21-22. Madrid, 1924.

GENERAL STATISTICS SERVICE. Statistics on the movement of vessels and passengers overseas 1923-24-25. Madrid, 1929.

CADASTRAL GEOGRAPHICAL AND STATISTICS INSTITUTE. Statistics on the movement of vessels and passengers overseas 1926-1931. Madrid, s.a.

DEPUTY GENERAL DIRECTORATE OF STATISTICS. Statistics on the movement of vessels and passengers overseas 1932-33-34. Madrid, 1936.

NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STATISTICS. Statistics on the movement of vessels and passengers overseas 1935-44, 1945-54, 1955-56, 1957-62. Madrid, 1949-63.

MINISTERIO DE TRABAJO(MINISTRY OF LABOUR). GENERAL DIRECTORATE OF EMPLOYMENT. Report on emigration 1916-1963, 1964, 1965. Madrid, 1964-1966.

These statistics started to be published at the same time as the enactment of the first Spanish Law on emigration in 1907. This law defined for the first time the concept of emigrant:

"Spaniards who propose to abandon their native land, with their passage paid or travelling by third class, or by any other that the Board of Emigration declares equivalent, to any point in America, Asia or Oceania".

From this very definition it can be deduced that this official statistical series is deficient in several ways. Firstly, the official statistics only reflect passengers travelling in third class (or equivalent). It also has to be taken into account that not all third class passengers were emigrants.

All research conducted into this issue has drawn attention to the fact that the immigration statistics of Latin American countries do not coincide with Spanish statistics on departures, with the former registering higher numbers. There are three clear reasons for this difference:

  • Departure from Europe from foreign ports, mainly in Portugal and France.
  • Internal movement between the various American republics.
  • Clandestine emigration.

Another factor to bear in mind is that different compilation criteria was used, such as second class passengers being accounted for as immigrants in certain American countries.

Emigration statistics on immigration mention the institutions that recorded population movements at the time, which were: city/town councils, civil governments, port captaincies, customs and economic administrations, Spanish consulates abroad and the Maritime Health Directorates.

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