Contributors to this article : A. Peláez, N. Castro, V. Melgar, A. J. Guerrero, L. Pavón, J. J. Buiza and M. C. Jaime.
There are fewer people on the ‘padrón’ for the first time in 17 years, as 44,000 foreign residents, mostly Britons and Germans are no longer registered
After nearly two decades of continual increase, the official population of Malaga province has dropped by a total of 33,502 over the last year. This reduction can be put down to a great extent to a significant fall in the number of foreigners, especially Britons and Germans, registered on their municipal population census (padrón).
Provisional figures published last week by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) show a record fall in the number of residents of both nationalities, which on paper dropped by more than 25 per cent between January 2013 and January this year.
The effects of the crisis and fiscal pressure are the principal causes of this phenomenon, say experts, who believe that the latest figures confirm something which has been happening in recent years but which until now had not been reflected on the municipal population registers “for different reasons”.
However, experts say that the lost foreigners have not all left during the past year, and at present the situation is not one of a massive exodus of foreigners, but quite the contrary.
In any case, as well as the economic crisis and the fiscal obligations, sources consulted say that other factors could have led to foreigners leaving the province, such as dissatisfaction wtih public services and the advanced age of those who arrived in the ‘boom years’ and have now decided to return for health reasons or because their spouses have died.
This would explain part of the decrease in the number of foreigners, but the ‘disappearance’ of many of them may also be due to an administrative matter: people from the EU are obliged to renew their registration on the population register (padrón) every five years, and those from non-EU countries have to do so every two years. Foreigners associations and different councils say that many residents do not do this, so the population figures fall.
Also, say the specialists, it could be that many of these people who no longer live in Malaga did not remove their names from the register when they moved and until now their absence has not been noted.
Town Halls we consulted confirm that in recent months the INE has sent them lists of all the foreigners whom they were intending to remove from the municipal population register if they did not update their details, as required by law.
“Many of them are elderly people who cannot get to the Town Halls on their own, and sometimes the official letters do not reach them because they live in residential developments outside the town,” explains Jacky Gómez, the head of the Foreign Residents Department in Nerja.
“A few years ago they used to send lists of 20, 30 or 40 people who were about to be removed from the population register, but this year there were nearly 2,300 people on the list, most of them British,” she says.
An increase in attention being paid to foreigners by the INE could explain why the fall in the last year appears so steep when it is really a reflection of a gradual decrease over the years of the crisis that has not shown up until now. Residents who leave the country tend not to remove their names from the population registers.
However, sources at the Institute of Statistics deny that control over foreigners on the population register has increased, and insist that it maintains a dynamic of work and communication which is similar to that in recent years, “cross-referencing the data, avoiding duplication and ensuring that people comply with the regulations,” they say.
However, at the beginning of the month the British Consulate in Malaga, together with representatives from several Town Halls in the province and the INE, agreed to join forces to ensure that all British residents put their names on the ‘padrón’, the population register, because many fail to do so even though they live here.
Although 57,282 are registered, it is estimated that more than 140,000 British people live in the province. The situation is similar for the Germans, as 11,155 are on the population register but about 60,000 are believed to live here.
At this meeting, the Town Hall representatives agreed that the principal barrier to registration is a fear of the fiscal consequences, because people think the ‘padrón’ is part of a control mechanism by the State. High taxation, the obligation to declare all the properties they own in their country of origin and problems in renewing residence permits are the main complaints from foreign residents, says Ricardo Bocanegra, a lawyer who is also the president of the Federation of Associations of Foreign Residents on the Costa del Sol.
“We are our own worst enemies,” laments the president of the Association of Property Developers, Ricardo Arranz, who points out that despite everything, in the past few months there has been renewed interest shown by Britons and central Europeans in investing in the province.
“There are many foreign residents with medium and high purchasing power who have been frightened by the fiscal greed of the government and they have taken their names off the ‘pádrón’ or have not renewed their registration; many others have had their residence permit renewal turned down and they have gone to other countries,” says Ricardo Bocanegra, who points out that, on the contrary, the interest from Russian people in establishing their residence in Spain and investing here “is continuing to increase because this country offers them more security than their own”.
In fact, the fall in the number of German and British residents has been counterbalanced to a small extent by an increase of 489 in the number of Russians, to a total of 5,138.
The Spanish population has also increased slightly. In total, Malaga has 1,619,49 inhabitants, 33,502 fewer than a year ago.
The councils of Malaga province hope that these provisional INE figures are not officially confirmed, because a drastic reduction in their registered population means a decrease in the funds the local authorities obtain from the State and the regional government.
In an attempt to reverse the trend, large coastal towns such as Estepona, Nerja, Vélez-Málaga, Marbella, Fuengirola, Mijas, Benalmádena and Torremolinos have recently launched campaigns urging residents to update their details on the ‘padrón’ and be counted.