The number of foreign workers in Malaga has more than doubled in 10 years

Friday, May 10, 2024, 3:15 p.m

The latest employment figures for March show that Malaga employed 103,147 foreign workers. From a quantitative perspective, this number implies two things. Firstly, this total places the province of Malaga in seventh place in terms of the number of foreign workers registered for social security contributions. The remaining six are, in order, Madrid (almost 570,000 workers born outside Spain), Barcelona (476,000), then Valencia, Alicante, the Balearic Islands and Murcia.

A second indicator of growth is that the number of foreigners who have now completed pensionable years in Málaga is more than double that recorded in 2012. This particular year forms the basis for calculating statistics from the Ministry of Social Inclusion. In 2012, there were only 46,382 foreign workers. This means that in the meantime they have increased by 122% to 2.7 million, well above the growth rate recorded in Spain as a whole, which is 80%. Málaga is the sixth province to record the highest increase in the number of workers arriving from abroad, after A Coruña (140%), Huelva (137%), Balearic Islands (134%), Vizcaya (131%) and Guipúzcoa (129%). %).

This growth rate of the number of foreign workers clearly exceeds the growth rate of the total number of employees in the voivodeship. In 2012, there were just over 501,000, but at the end of the first quarter of 2024, there were almost 700,000. In April, the number had already reached 710,000, an increase of approximately 40%.

A common phenomenon

The increase in the number of registered foreign workers is more than three times greater than the increase in the total number of payers to the state. This phenomenon is not unique to Málaga: “A large part of the employment growth in recent years has come from foreigners, although in this province the growth has been much higher,” says Ángel de la Fuente, executive director of the Foundation for Applied Economic Studies (Fedea). Across Spain, the 80% increase in the number of foreign taxpayers contrasts sharply with the approximately 25% increase recorded for all employed people. According to Raymond Torres, director of economic monitoring at the Funcas consultancy, this is in line with the Spanish economic model: growth by increasing the overall population and labor force, not by improving productivity. It also suggests that if Málaga’s foreign employment growth is 40 points higher than the country as a whole, then this demographic factor is also a key component of the province’s economic boom compared to the rest of Spain.

“Much of the employment growth in recent years has come from foreigners, although the increase in this province has been much greater.”

Ángel de la Fuente


“The Spanish economy grows by increasing population and workers – not by improving productivity – and Málaga’s greater employment growth is consistent with the greater dynamism of the territory compared to the rest of the country.”

Such numbers have also attracted their critics. The secretary of the UGT trade union in the province of Malaga, Soledad Ruiz, said: “We cannot congratulate ourselves on these numbers because we have over 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 meet the needs of certain sectors, because if they are not trained, they need to be trained, that is what public service and labor training is all about; are for.”

Alberto Montero, lecturer at UMA (University of Malaga), emphasizes that Malaga, Spain and Europe as a whole are facing a demographic problem that needs to be addressed, although he admits that some unemployed people are difficult to employ because of their skills and not those required by today’s labor market. Torres adds that institutions acting as employment intermediaries, such as Inem and Sepe, need to be reorganized to become more effective, but he does not see a substitution effect (replacing local workers with foreign workers). “There is no evidence for this,” he says.

From the position of the CCOO (Comisiones Obreras, another large trade union), Inma Sánchez points out that the population growth in the province is due to the influx of foreigners, while the local population is actually decreasing. He draws attention to another phenomenon: the potential population of professionally active people – people aged 16-64 – is also proportionally larger among foreigners (69.2%) than among the country’s residents (65.4%). This situation is exacerbated for people aged 25 to 44: 33.5% are foreigners compared to 24.1% of citizens. For this reason, Sánchez believes that the arrival of foreigners brings “added value” to the province in terms of demographics, mainly to mitigate the aging population, but also in terms of employment and the economy and society in general.

“We cannot congratulate ourselves on these data, because in the voivodeship we have over 130,000. unemployed”

“The arrival of foreigners adds value to the voivodeship in terms of demographics, employment, economic and social aspects”

Inma Sánchez

Comisiones Obreras

Not all Spanish provinces have fared as well as Malaga when it comes to foreigners paying social security contributions. In fact, their numbers have decreased: Jaén (-55% since 2012, to 7,833); Córdoba fell 4.3% to less than 10,700; and Ciudad Real – a decrease of 3.5%.

From a qualitative point of view, this dynamic shows in Málaga, which is among the ten provinces with the highest number of foreign workers and the greatest increase in their number over the last 12 years, the area’s great ability to attract foreign talent and offer opportunities to people from other countries. This is not limited to just a few industrial sectors, but to all, as Ángel de la Fuente emphasized.

By sector

However, the most important sector in terms of employment of citizens born outside Spain is the hotel and restaurant industry, which employed 23,754 people in March, which is more than double the number in 2012, when there were just over 11,000. In second place is general trade and commerce employing over 15,000 workers, i.e. 62% more than in 2012. The third most important sector is construction, which employs over 11,000 foreign workers, i.e. three times more than in 2012. De la Fuente believes that It is normal for foreign workers to be employed in service sectors such as hospitality and business trade, but since the establishment of the Malaga Technology Park, he has also noticed that foreign workers are attracted to other sectors, including the technology industry.

Interestingly, none of the three items mentioned above were included in the list of sectors that have seen the greatest increase in the number of foreign workers in recent years. This growth concerns two sectors that have much to do with the new digital economy. Firstly, transport and storage, i.e. logistics, closely related to the popularity of e-commerce. The number of foreign workers has more than quadrupled, from 790 in 2012 to over 3,400 today. Secondly, the ICT (information and communication technologies) sector has also quadrupled and employs almost 6,000 in the voivodeship. foreign workers. To this should be added almost 5,700 foreign workers (almost 140% more than in 2012) who are engaged in professional, scientific and other technical activities.

Only one economic activity recorded a decline in the presence of foreign workers – domestic services, which fell by approximately 11% over 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 provincial GDP.”

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

The most numerous foreign workers are Moroccans, British and Italians

Foreigners constitute approximately 15% of the total number of people paying social security contributions in the province of Malaga. According to data from the Comisiones Obreras (CC OO) trade union, most of them, around 60,000, are non-EU workers, while EU workers account for just over 36,500. Among those coming from countries outside the European Union, the most important group are Moroccans (over 9, 6 thousand), then British (about 9.4 thousand) and citizens of Ukrainian origin – just over 6.1 thousand. – according to the data. with Comisiones Obreras at the end of 2023. When it comes to people from EU countries, Italians dominate with almost 9,000, followed by Germans with almost 3,000. and the French with a similar number, and the Dutch with less than 2,500. In terms of recruitment, last year, according to CC OO data, foreign workers accounted for 17.21% of the total. 61.3% of contracts were permanent, above the provincial average, and 44% were full-time, also above the Malaga average.