Spain’s foreigner unemployment rate shoots up by 37% due to Covid crisis

Spain's foreigner unemployment rate shoots up by 37% due to Covid crisis
Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP
The joblessness rate among foreign nationals was 20 percent higher than the national average at the end of 2020.

The number of people in Spain registered as unemployed surpassed four million for the first time in five years in February, government figures showed last Tuesday, as pandemic restrictions hit the country’s tourism-dependent economy.

A closer look at the stats shows that one group where this worrying trend is even more pronounced is the country’s 5.4 million foreign residents.

Unemployment among extranjeros (foreigners in Spanish) shot up by 37 percent by the end of last year – equalling 227,900 more foreigners without work than in 2019, according to Spain’s latest Survey of Working Population (Encuesta de Población Activa) EPA

In the final three months of 2020 alone, 40,000 of Spain’s foreign residents lost their jobs.

In fact, of the 527,900 newly unemployed people who were registered in 2020, four in every ten were foreign nationals.

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Only 2.3 million foreigners in Spain were registered as working by the end of last year, a figure that may explain why around 3 million foreigners are not affiliated to the country’s social security system as they don’t make tax contributions, and in principle won’t be able to access public healthcare or the Covid-19 vaccine yet (many aren’t on public hospital records).

That doesn’t mean that 3 million foreigners are out of work but rather that many form part of Spain’s underground or ‘black’ economy, whereby they often get paid cash-in-hand and don’t receive welfare benefits as their employers haven’t registered them as workers or offered them a contract. It’s a practice that is also common among Spanish workers.

Almost two in every three foreign nationals registered as unemployed had work in the service sector, a trend which makes sense given the hit Spain’s hospitality and tourism industry has received for the past year as a result of lockdowns, opening restrictions and international travel bans.

Unfortunately, 2021 hasn’t got off to a good start either, as the number of extranjeros en paro (foreigners out of work) this February totals 590,457, according to Spain’s Labour Ministry, 44 percent higher than in February 2020.

It’s worth noting that both Spain’s Labour Ministry and its National Statistics Institute don’t include in their calculations the roughly 755,000 people benefitting from a government coronavirus furlough scheme -ERTE – as of the end of last year.

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