Bienvenidos a Blighty: Spanish workers flock to UK

Fiona Govan
Fiona Govan - [email protected]
Bienvenidos a Blighty: Spanish workers flock to UK
Josué and Laura are two of the hundreds of thousands of Spaniards working in the UK. Photo: J. Castaño

Record numbers of Spaniards have moved to the UK to find work and escape the economic crisis in their own country.


Over the past four years the number of Spanish workers to move to the UK rose by a whopping 117 percent from 63,000 to 137,000, according to a new report from the Migration Observatory.

In fact the eurozone jobs crisis has meant more southern European migrants are encouraged to head to the UK to compete for jobs with those arriving from eastern Europe.

Some 3.3 million EU nationals now live in the UK, 700,000 more than in 2011.

The report shows that although 49 percent of the arrivals during the period between 2011 and 2015 were from Poland and Romania, the southern nations of Spain, Italy and Portugal accounted for 24 percent.

Robert McNeil from the Migration Observatory said the figures reflected the fact that the UK’s economy was booming while Spain’s was in crisis.

"The UK has been outperforming the rest of Europe for quite some time. Employment is at a record high and the number of people in work is the highest it has ever been," he told The Local.

"With job creation comes the demand to fill these jobs. The majority of those filled by migrant workers are unskilled and fairly low wages and don’t have a huge amount of competition from UK-born workers."

"They tend to be short-term, low wage jobs in the industries of hospitality, agriculture and construction."

"In terms of Spanish workers they are drawn to hospitality jobs working in cafes, restaurants and hotels."

Spanish unemployment currently stands at 20.9 percent down from a record 26.94 percent at the height of the crisis in the first quarter of 2013, while Spain’s youth unemployment hovers at around 45 percent.


But the report shows that migratory patterns are subject to change.

"We wouldn’t expect the high level of youth unemployment in Spain to last forever and therefore in time there will be less incentive for those people to leave Spain and work elsewhere."

The report cleared up one polemic. The UK’s reputation for being a soft-touch on benefits was not a driving force for those coming here.

"While certainly there will be some EU migrants claiming jobseekers allowance, we are talking about a very low percentage, that is certainly not a major factor," explained McNeil. "The percentage is lower than that of the British workforce.

"It may be that in terms of other benefits, namely tax credits, the percentage is higher but that is because we are talking about a group who largely exist in the low wage bracket where these benefits are available."

READ MORE: Top ten things that shock Spaniards living in the UK

Josué Castaño is just one of the tens of thousands of Spaniards who have moved to Britain.

"I wanted to get some experience and try to broaden my horizons and so I saw the UK as an opportunity," said the 30-year-old from Madrid, who now lives in Bristol where he works in a restaurant.

"Over here I make double what I would in Spain doing basically the same work in hospitality," he told The Local.

"Even though the cost of living is higher in Bristol it is still worth it. Especially as the pound stretches much further when it comes to holidays."

"There are so many Spanish people working in hospitality here, but we're also starting to see Spaniards in all sorts of other jobs. There are two working in the local Barclays, and one in Specsavers. Even a girl at my local grocery store is Spanish."

Castaño believes that Spaniards work hard and keep their living costs down to a minimum.

"The local hostels in Bristol are full up, not with holiday makers but Spaniards working here in restaurants and bars," he explained.

"The kitchen porter at the restaurant where I work is Spanish and for the last seven months he has worked all the hours possible while staying in a hostel where he shares a room with eight people," Castaña recounted.

His girlfriend Laura Bedmar, a 26-year-old from Malaga who arrived in Bristol three and half years ago and now works as a bar supervisor at a hotel, said the economic crisis at home forced her to move abroad.

"There are simply less opportunities in Spain," she told The Local. "Once I had graduated the prospects of getting a job in Malaga were so low that I moved to the UK."

By working in hotels and restaurants she was able to put herself through a master's course in Human Resources but desperately wants to return to southern Spain.

"I want to go home. I am so tired of the weather here. I just can’t get used to it, even after three and a half years," she laughed.

"When summer comes Bristol is lovely, we can go to the park, sit outside and I am super happy. But that only seems to last a week before it’s raining again," she said.

"If a good opportunity came up in Spain I would go back, but I never would without a job to go to, and after being so independent here I just couldn’t go back to living with my parents."



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