Foreign residents in Spain top 6 million for first time

Spain’s resident foreign population grew by around a million in the last five years and reached a record 6 million at the end of 2021, new ministry data reveals. 

Foreign residents in Spain top 6 million for first time
In five years, Spain has seen its foreign population rise from five million to six million. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

Spain has more foreigners living in its territory than ever before. 

As of December 31st 2021, a total of 6,007,553 foreigners called Spain home, according to the latest data revealed by the country’s Ministry of Inclusion, Social Services and Migration.

With 207,000 more foreign residents in 2021 than in 2020, Spain is therefore returning to the growth in migration seen prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The number of non-EU foreigners who were granted residency in Spain also increased by 3.6 percent in 2021.

Spain’s foreign resident population has risen by 19 percent in the last five years, with roughly one million more foreigners than at the end of 2016. 

According to the report, there has been a sharp slowdown in the year-on-year growth of Venezuelan migrants, from a 53 percent increase in 2020 to 7 percent in 2021. 

By contrast, migration from Colombia saw the biggest rise in 2021.

The largest migratory increases from within the EU to Spain were from Italy (7 percent) and France (5 percent). 

Although provinces such as Madrid (972,000) and Barcelona (895,000) are home to the biggest number of foreigners, in other provinces such as Almería, Málaga, Lleida, Alicante, Girona and the Balearics “extranjeros” represent a bigger proportion of the population.

Map showing the number of foreigners living in each of Spain’s 50 provinces, the darker shaded ones having a higher proportion of foreigners. Map: Ministry of Inclusion, Social Services and Migration.

Of the 6 million foreigners now residing in Spain, 3.48 million are from other EU countries whereas 2.34 million are originally from third countries, with the remaining unaccounted for people mainly Britons who fall under the Withdrawal Agreement (WA).

Graph showing the increase in residency permit authorisations in Spain since 2013. Source: Spain’s Ministry of Inclusion, Social Services and Migration

Spanish immigration authorities compiled the data based on the number of EU residents with green residency documents (certificados de registro) and non-EU residents with the TIE (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero)card or other authorisations such as the WA.

Spain’s biggest foreign population groups according to nationality are currently Romanians (1.09 million), Moroccans (830,000), Britons (407,000), Italians (377,000), Chinese (230,000), Bulgarians (202,000), French (185,000) and Germans (185,000).

The average age of migrants in Spain is 40 and there are slightly more men (52 percent) than women. 

In terms of the type of residency documents non-EU immigrants have, 77 percent have long-term authorisations (usually granted after five years of living in Spain) and 23 percent have a temporary residency document.

In terms of how they obtained their residency permits, 33 percent of cases were through work, 22 through family reunification, 12 percent through non-lucrative residence and 33 percent through humanitarian causes and lineage.

The data does not include the 25,000 Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in Spain since the war broke out in February 2022 and have obtained or are awaiting residency. Prior to this, there were 94,000 Ukrainian nationals residing in Spain. 

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EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

Moving to another country is never easy, as it requires going through cultural changes and administrative formalities. It can be even more complicated when looking for a job.

EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

According to new data released by the EU statistical office, Eurostat, the knowledge of the national language and the recognition of professional qualifications are the two most common obstacles experienced by foreign-born people in finding a ‘suitable’ job in countries of the European Union.

Overall, about a quarter of people born outside the EU who had experience in working or looking for work in the bloc reported some difficulties getting a ‘suitable’ job for level of education (without considering the field of expertise or previous experience).

The Eurostat analysis shows that the situation is better for EU citizens moving within the bloc. But there are major differences depending on countries and gender.

Life can be more difficult for women

In 2021, 13.2 percent of men and 20.3 percent of women born in another European Union country reported obstacles in getting a suitable job in the EU place of residence.

These proportions however increase to 20.9 percent for men and 27.3 percent for women born in a non-EU country with a high level of development (based on the United Nations’ Human Development Index) and 31.1 percent for men and 35.7 percent for women from non-EU countries with a low or medium level of development.

Finland (42.9 percent), Sweden (41.7 percent), Luxembourg (34.6 percent) and France (32.1 percent) are the countries with the highest shares of people born outside the EU reporting problems. Norway, which is not part of the bloc, has an even higher percentage, 45.2, and Switzerland 34.3 percent.

In contrast, Cyprus (11.2 percent), Malta (10.9 percent), Slovenia (10.2 percent), Latvia (10 percent) and Lithuania (6.7 percent) have the lowest proportion of people born outside the EU reporting difficulties.

Lack of language skills

The lack of skills in the national language is most commonly cited as a hurdle, and it is even more problematic for women.

This issue was reported by 4.2 percent of men born in another EU country, 5.3 percent of those born in a developed country outside the EU and 9.7 percent of those from a non-EU country with a middle or low level of development. The corresponding shares for women, however, were 5.6, 6.7 and 10.5 percent respectively.

The countries where language skills were more likely to be reported by non-EU citizens as an obstacle in getting a relevant job were Finland (22.8 percent), Luxembourg (14.7 percent) and Sweden (13.1 percent).

As regards other countries covered by The Local, the percentage of non-EU citizens citing the language as a problem was 12.4 percent in Austria, 10.2 percent in Denmark, 7.8 percent in France, 5.1 percent in Italy, 2.7 percent in Spain, 11.1 percent on Norway and 10.1 percent in Switzerland. Data is not available for Germany.

Portugal (77.4 percent), Croatia (68.8 percent), Hungary (58.8 percent) and Spain (58.4 percent) have the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving, while more than 70 percent of non-EU citizens residing in Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Norway said they had participated in language courses after arrival.

Lisbon Portugal

Portugal has the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving. (Photo by Aayush Gupta on Unsplash)

Recognition of qualifications

Another hurdle on the way to a relevant job in EU countries is the lack of recognition of a formal qualification obtained abroad. This issue was reported by 2 percent of men and 3.8 percent of women born in another EU country. It was also mentioned by 3.3 percent of men and 5.9 percent of women born in a developed country outside the EU, and 4.8 percent of men and 4.6 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Eurostat says this reflects an “unofficial distrust” among employers of qualification obtained abroad and the “low official validation of foreign education”.

The lack of availability of a suitable job was another factor mentioned in the survey. In Croatia, Portugal and Hungary, this was the main obstacle to getting an adequate position.

This issue concerned 3.3 percent of men and 4.5 percent of women born in another EU country, 4.2 percent of men and 5 percent of women born in a developed non-EU country It also worried 3.9 percent of men and 5.1 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Restricted right to work due to citizenship or residence permits, as well as plain discrimination on the grounds of origin were also cited as problems.

Discrimination was mostly reported by people born in a less developed non-EU country (3.1 percent for men and 3.3 percent for women) compared to people born in highly developed non-EU countries (1.9 percent for men and 2.2 percent for women).

Citizenship and residence permits issues are unusual for people from within the EU. For people from outside the EU, this is the only area where women seem to have fewer problems than men: 1.6 percent of women from developed non-EU countries reported this issue, against 2.1 percent of men, with the share increasing to 2.8 and 3.3 percent respectively for women and men from less developed non-EU states.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.