Construction is one of the sectors employing most foreign workers. SUR
Number of foreign workers in Malaga more than doubles in 10 years

Number of foreign workers in Malaga more than doubles in 10 years

Employees from other countries have increased in number three times faster than the growth rate of Malaga's workforce as a whole, now standing at over 100,000, and they are employed in all sectors

Cristina Vallejo

Friday, 10 May 2024, 15:15


The latest employment figures for March show Malaga with 103,147 foreign workers. This figure implies two things from a quantitative point of view. Firstly, this total puts Malaga province in seventh place in terms of the number of non-native workers registered for social security contributions, The other six are, in order, Madrid, (almost 570,000 employees born outside Spain), Barcelona (476,000), then Valencia, Alicante, the Balearics and Murcia.

The second indicator of growth is that the volume of foreigners clocking up pensionable years in Malaga today is more than double what was recorded in 2012. That particular year is the base from which the Ministry of Inclusion's statistics are calculated. Back in 2012 there were only 46,382 foreign workers. This means that, in the intervening years, they have increased by 122% to 2.7 million, well above the rate of increase recorded in Spain as a whole - that is, 80%. Malaga is the sixth province to have the highest growth in the number of workers arriving from abroad, behind A Coruña (140%), Huelva (137%), the Balearic Islands (134%), Vizcaya (131%) and Guipúzcoa (129%).

This rate of growth in the number of foreign employees is beating by far the growth rate in the total number of workers for the province. There were just over 501,000 in 2012, but by the end of the first quarter of 2024 it was close to 700,000. By April it had already reached 710,000, representing a growth of around 40%.

Widespread phenomenon

The rise in the number of foreign workers on the books is more than three times higher than the rise in the total number of those paying into the state. This phenomenon is not exclusive to Malaga: "A large part of the growth in employment in recent years has come from foreigners, although in this province the increase has been much higher", says Ángel de la Fuente, Executive Director of the Foundation for Applied Economics Studies (Fedea). In Spain as a whole the 80% growth in foreign taxpayers contrasts markedly with the around 25% rise recorded for all those in employment. For Raymond Torres, director in charge of monitoring the economy at think-tank Funcas, this is consistent with the Spanish economic model: growth by means of increasing the general population and adding to the workforce rather than by improving productivity. He also suggests that, if the increase in foreign employment in Malaga is 40 points higher than in the country as a whole, this demographic factor is also a key ingredient in the province's economic boom when compared to the rest of Spain.

"Much of the growth in employment in recent years has come from foreigners, although in this province the increase has been much higher"

Ángel de la Fuente


"The Spanish economy grows by adding population and workers - rather than by productivity improvements - and the greater increase in employment in Malaga is coherent with the greater dynamism of this territory compared to the rest of the country"

Raymond Torres


Such figures have also attracted their critics. The UGT trade union secretary for Malaga province, Soledad Ruiz, had this to say: "We cannot congratulate ourselves on these figures because we have more than 130,000 unemployed people in the province and many of them are long-term unemployed. We are not in a situation of full employment, we have unemployed people, and we cannot say that there are no workers to cover the needs of certain sectors, because if they are not trained, they should be re-trained; this is what public services and jobs training are for."

Alberto Montero, lecturer at UMA (University of Malaga), pushes the point that Malaga, Spain and Europe as a whole have a demographic problem that needs to be addressed, although he concedes that some of the unemployed are tough to employ because their skills are not those demanded by today's jobs market. Torres adds that the institutions acting as jobs mediators, such as Inem or Sepe, need an overhaul to become more efficient, but he does not see any substitution effect happening (local workers being substituted by foreign workers). "There is no evidence of this," he says.

From the CCOO's (Comisiones Obreras, another large trade union) stance, Inma Sánchez points out that population growth in the province is down to the arrival of foreigners as the local population is actually decreasing. She points out another phenomenon: the potential working population - those between 16 and 64 years of age - is also proportionally higher among foreigners (69.2%) than among locals (65.4%). This is exacerbated for those aged 25 to 44: 33.5% are foreigners compared to 24.1% of nationals. For this reason, Sánchez believes that the arrival of foreigners brings "added value" to the province in demographic terms, mostly to mitigate the ageing population, but also in terms of employment and the economy and society in general.

"We cannot congratulate ourselves on these figures because we have more than 130,000 unemployed people in the province"

Soledad Ruiz


"The arrival of foreigners is an added value for the province in demographic, employment, economic and social terms"

Inma Sánchez

Comisiones Obreras

Not all provinces of Spain have done as well as Malaga for foreigners paying their social security dues. In fact, their numbers have dropped: Jaén (-55% since 2012, down to 7,833); Cordoba down by 4.3%, to below 10,700; and Ciudad Real, down 3.5%.

From a qualitative point of view, what this dynamic shows in Malaga, which is among the ten provinces with the most foreign workers and with the highest growth in their number in the last 12 years, is the great capacity for this area to attract foreign talent and to offer opportunities to people from other countries. Neither is it restricted to just a few industry sectors, but to all, as highlighted by Ángel de la Fuente.

By sector

Still, the most important sector in terms of employment for citizens born outside Spain is the hotel and restaurant industry, with 23,754 employed as of March, a figure that more than doubles that of 2012, when there were just over 11,000. Second in importance is general trade and commerce with more than 15,000 employees, a figure 62% higher than in 2012. The third most important sector is construction, with more than 11,000 foreign workers, three times more than back in 2012. De la Fuente considers it normal that foreign workers are employed in service sectors such as hospitality and business trading, but he has also noticed foreign workers being attracted to other sectors, including the tech industry since the start-up of Malaga city's technology park.

Strangely enough, none of the top three just mentioned features in the list of the sectors where most growth in foreign worker numbers has happened in recent years. That growth has been in two sectors that have a lot to do with the new digital economy. Firstly, transport and storage, i.e. logistics, closely linked to the popularity of e-commerce. The number of foreign workers has more than quadrupled, going from 790 in 2012 to more than 3,400 today. Secondly, the ICT (information and communication technology) sector, also quadrupled to almost 6,000 foreign workers in the province. To these must be added the almost 5,700 foreign employees (almost 140% more than in 2012) who are engaged in professional, scientific and other technical activities.

Only one business activity has seen the presence of foreign workers decrease - domestic service, which has dropped by about 11% in the last twelve years, to less than 350.

"The distribution of foreign workers by sector is proportional to the weight of each activity in total employment and in the provincial GDP"

Alberto Montero


Alberto Montero puts it into context by stating that the distribution of foreign workers reflects the economic structure of the province itself: the technology sector is growing a lot, but activities such as retail business, construction and hospitality continue to employ more people overall, both nationals and foreigners.

Moroccans, British and Italians, the most numerous foreign employees

Foreigners account for around 15% of the total number of Social Security contributors in the province of Malaga. According to data from trade union Comisiones Obreras (CC OO), most of them, around 60,000, are non-EU workers, while EU workers account for just over 36,500. Among the people coming from countries outside the European Union, the most important group is represented by Moroccans, with more than 9,600, followed by people from the United Kingdom, with around 9,400, while citizens of Ukrainian origin numbered just over 6,100, according to data from Comisiones Obreras at the end of 2023. As far as people from EU countries are concerned, Italians dominate, with almost 9,000, followed by Germans, with almost 3,000, and the French with a similar number, while the Dutch are just shy of 2,500. As far as recruitment is concerned, last year, according to CC OO data, foreign workers represented 17.21% of the total. 61.3% of the contracts were permanent, above the provincial average, and 44% were full-time, also above the Malaga average.

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