Spain gained nearly 200,000 foreign workers in 2021

The number of registered foreign workers grew by more than 9 percent in 2021 in Spain, the country’s Social Security Ministry reported on Wednesday, following an exodus of workers during 2020 caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

foreign workers spain
The number of foreign self-employed workers in Spain also grew slightly by 1.1 percent in 2021. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP

A total of 191,170 foreigners became social security contributors in Spain in 2021, more than quadrupling the loss of 45,000 foreign workers who left in 2020, in large part due to the coronavirus crisis. 

This represents a yearly increase of 11.62 percent in the number of foreigners registered in the country’s social security system, taking the total to 2.26 million registered foreign workers in Spain.

The biggest rises were among foreign nationals who already make up the biggest population groups of extranjeros in Spain: Romanians (with a total of 331,739 registered workers in Spain), Moroccans (285,501), Italians (140,387), Chinese (107,143) and Venezuelans (106,264).

The only exception are Britons, who although number around 380,000 according to 2020 data from Ministry of Inclusion, are not necessarily social security affiliates through their jobs, but also through pensions or other schemes. 

In December 2021, there were 65,711 UK nationals that were affiliated to Spain’t social security system through work. 

By regions, the biggest increases in registered foreign workers in December 2021 were in Andalusia (+3.6 percent) and Castilla-La Mancha (1.77 percent) whereas the biggest drops were in the Balearic Islands (-5.17 percent), in Cantabria (-1.52 percent ), and in Galicia (-1 percent).

However, Catalonia and the Community of Madrid had the biggest yearly increases with 45,000 and 38,000 new foreign workers in 2021, and the two regions continue to have the highest number of registered foreign workers in Spain, with 536,000 and 469,000 respectively.

In terms of the new jobs foreigners have filled most in December 2021, the biggest rises were in agriculture and other food production (+2.78 percent), energy supply (+1.16 percent) and healthcare (+1.57 percent). 

As for the job sectors that registered the biggest rises in foreign employees over the whole of 2021, these were in energy supply (+24.9 percent), hospitality (+21.2 percent), information and communications (+17.8 percent) and artistic activities (+17.1 percent).

The number of foreign self-employed workers in Spain also grew slightly by 1.1 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year, meaning that foreign autónomos now represent 12.8 percent of Spain’s total.

The Spanish Ministry of Inclusion and Social Security recently announced that employers in all industries in Spain can now recruit third-country nationals in their countries of origin rather than having to find candidates in Spain when they’re struggling to fill job positions.

However, tens of thousands of highly-qualified professionals in regulated fields are having to wait two years or longer for the recognition of their qualifications (homologación) to be processed, thus preventing them from working and keeping them in limbo.

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Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Talk of abortion policy reform and proposed menstrual leave has dominated Spanish discourse this week, but it’s also dividing Spain’s coalition government.

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Spain’s PSOE-fronted coalition government recently outlined proposals that have dominated public discourse in the country.

But the legislation, which would allow women over the age of 16 to get abortions without the permission of their parents and introduce ‘menstruation leave’ for those suffering serious period pains, has not only divided Spanish society but the government itself.

The proposals would make Spain a leader in the Western world, and the first European Union member state to introduce menstrual leave, and changes to abortion law would overturn a 2015 law passed by the conservative People’s Party that forced women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent.

The wide-ranging bill would also end VAT on menstrual products, increase the free distribution of them in schools, and allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who experience particularly painful periods.

READ MORE: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

Menstrual leave

Ángela Rodríguez, the Secretary of State for Equality, told Spanish newspaper El Periódico in March that “it’s important to be clear about what a painful period is – we’re not talking about slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”

“When there’s a problem that can’t be solved medically, we think it’s very sensible to have temporary sick leave,” she added.

Cabinet politics

The proposals are slated for approval in cabinet next week, and judging by reports in the Spanish media this week, it is far from reaching a consensus. It is believed the intra-cabinet tensions stem not from the changes to abortion and contraception accessibility, but rather the proposed menstrual leave.

The junior coalition partner in government, Podemos, largely supports the bill, but it is believed some in the PSOE ranks are more sceptical about the symbolism and employment effects of the proposed period pain policy.

Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, said this week: “Let me repeat it very clearly: this government believes and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that may result in a stigmatisation of women.”

Yet Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, who is viewed as further to the left than President Pedro Sánchez and other PSOE cabinet ministers, is reportedly “absolutely in favour” of the measure to reform Spain’s “deeply masculinised” labour market.

Sources in the Spanish media have this week also reported that some PSOE cabinet ministers feel the proposed paid leave not only plays up to stereotypes of women, or stigmatises them, like Calviño says, but also places them at a disadvantage in the world of work.

Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, stated that while the government should seek to improve women’s employment protections, it should also seek to boost their participation in the labour market under “better conditions.”

In that vein, some feel menstrual leave could be used a form of of employment discrimination similarly to how pregnancy has been historically, and the policy would, in that sense, actually be more regressive than progressive in enshrining women’s workplace rights. 

READ MORE: Spain eyes free contraception for under-25’s

Trade unions

Trade unions are also sceptical of the menstrual leave legislation. Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, has echoed those in the cabinet who feel the proposals could “stigmatise women.” She added that “it does women a disservice.”

Public opinion

A survey run by INTIMINA found that 67 percent of Spanish women are in favour of regulating menstrual leave, but also that 75 percent fear it is “a double-edged sword” that could generate labor discrimination.

The survey also found that 88 percent of women who suffer from disabling and frequent period pain have gone to work despite it. Seventy-one percent admitted that they have normalised working with pain.

Cabinet showdown

The proposed menstrual leave policy will be debated in cabinet next week when the Council of Ministers debates and approves the broader abortion and contraception reforms. According to sources in the Spanish media, and many cabinet ministers themselves, it seems a consensus on menstruation leave is a long way off.