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

The joblessness rate among foreign nationals was 20 percent higher than the national average at the end of 2020.

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

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.


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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‘Hard to stay afloat’: Is working for an English language academy in Spain worth it?

It's the go-to work option for countless anglophones in Spain, but is teaching at an English language academy still enough to pay the bills in a climate of rising prices, stagnant wages and a shift to online learning platforms?

'Hard to stay afloat': Is working for an English language academy in Spain worth it?

Traditionally seen as a type of gap-year experience for recent graduates and/or those seeking adventure before settling down to a more traditional career path, English language teaching in Spain has becoming increasingly popular as a long-term career.

A high quality of life, a more favourable climate and generally lower living costs have always made Spain a popular destination for English language teachers, with Spain posting the highest number of job advertisements for teachers among European countries.

As a result, many of those working in the industry see it as somewhere to further both their professional and personal lives.

However, poor job security, stagnant salaries and issues surrounding the long-term sustainability of language academies have plagued the sector for years.

The recent impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the current rise in inflation has further compounded these issues, with many teachers considering their long-term careers in Spain.

Teachers working for private language academies in large cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla can expect to earn between €800 to €1,400 a month after tax for about 20 to 30 hours of class time per week.

One teacher told The Local Spain that despite working as a profesor de inglés for almost a decade, his academy salary had gone down dramatically in real wage terms, following a salary cut during the pandemic which made it “hard to keep my head above water”.

“I was working as a teacher for nine years but felt the need to leave the profession as the hours I needed to work were affecting my mental health. During my first three years in Spain, I was able to get by on my salary. Since then, I have increased the number of private classes gradually, I save the same a month as I did when I first moved here, but have to work an extra eight hours a week to be in that situation”.

READ ALSO: The pros and cons of being an English language assistant in Spain

As of 2022, the minimum monthly salary stands at €1,166 gross for a 40-hour working week, meaning that someone working as an English teacher can expect to earn more or less the minimum wage based on their contact hours, with many opting to teach privately in order to supplement their income.

In addition to this, most teachers are hired on short-term indefinido contracts, meaning that they only earn a monthly salary for nine months of the year, resulting in many taking on summer work to maintain a year-round monthly income.

While short-term informal contracts and a relatively manageable monthly salary may have appealed to single, twenty-somethings seeking a few years of fun and adventure in Spain, for those looking to support a family or get on the property ladder the precarious economic reality of English language teaching has seen many reconsider their long-term career goals.

“I rented when I initially moved here but now I’m paying off a mortgage which has gone up due to interest rate rises,” another English teacher told The Local Spain. 

A traditionally in-person industry, the pandemic forced many academies online and, due to increased competition from online language learning platforms along with a paradigm shift in terms of hybrid and remote study and work, academies have struggled to replace students lost to this new language learning environment.

As a result of this, some teachers have seen their weekly teaching hours reduced as academies simply cannot guarantee a full schedule, putting further financial pressure on teachers.

teaching english spain

Poor job security, stagnant salaries and issues surrounding the long-term sustainability of language academies have been plaguing the industry for years in Spain. Photo: Thirdman/Pexels

One teacher with over seven years working experience for a large English academy in Madrid told The Local that “a few years ago our company began the long process of trying to cut our supplements and basic wage”.

“We were backed up by our comité, (representative group) but after about a year of negotiations, reductions (and redundancies) were made. At the time it cut about €250 from my meagre wages.”

As is the case across Europe, the level of inflation in Spain has risen sharply to about 10.5 percent as of September 2022. Combined with rising energy prices, more and more teachers are finding it increasingly difficult to live off a salary in some cases of just over €1,000 a month.

With the average cost of renting a room ranging from €400 to €500 in large cities, some teachers are choosing to cut costs in terms of their living standards to make their salaries stretch further.

Another teacher told The Local how “while I still go out at the weekend and buy the food I want at supermarkets, the increase in rental prices has meant that I’ve stayed in a less-than-ideal room, rather than finding a better room – due to not wanting to pay significantly more in rent”.

While the challenges facing English teachers in Spain are not unique to their line of work, this latest set of drawbacks should be factored in by anyone considering making a move here or teaching long-term.

Such economic realities are difficult to ignore, but that’s not to say there isn’t a lot English teaching can offer someone looking to gain some valuable work and life experience while also enjoying the hustle and bustle of life in Spain.

Article by Cormac Breen