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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How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union are eligible for a special residence status that allows them to move to another country in the bloc. Getting the permit is not simple but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

The European Commission proposed this week to simplify residence rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the European Union.

The intention is to ease procedures in three areas: acquiring EU long-term residence status, moving to other EU countries and improving the rights of family members. 

But the new measures will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council, which is made of national ministers. Will EU governments support them?

What is EU long-term residence?

Non-EU citizens who live in EU countries on a long-term basis are eligible for long-term residence status, nationally and at the EU level. 

This EU status can be acquired if the person has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years, has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period, and can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources” and health insurance. Applicants can also be required to meet “integration conditions”, such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge. 

The EU long-term residence permit is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the status can be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year (the EU Court of Justice recently clarified that being physically in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to maintain the status).

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?

Long-term residence status grants equal treatment to EU nationals in areas such as employment and self-employment or education. In addition, EU long-term residence grants the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions. 

What does the European Commission want to change?

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to acquire EU long-term residence status and to strengthen the rights associated with it. 

Under new measures, non-EU citizens should be able to cumulate residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement, instead of resetting the clock at each move. 

This, however, will not apply to individuals who used a ‘residence by investment’ scheme to gain rights in the EU, as the Commission wants to “limit the attractiveness” of these routes and not all EU states offer such schemes. 

All periods of legal residence should be fully counted towards the 5 years, including those spent as students, beneficiaries of temporary protection or on temporary grounds. Stays under a short-term visa do not count.

Children who are born or adopted in the EU country having issued the EU long-term residence permit to their parents should acquire EU long-term resident status in that country automatically, without residence requirement, the Commission added.

READ ALSO: Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

EU countries should also avoid imposing a minimum income level for the resources condition but consider the applicant’s individual circumstances, the Commission suggests.

Integration tests should not be too burdensome or expensive, nor should they be requested for long-term residents’ family reunifications. 

The Commission also proposed to extend from 12 to 24 months the possibility to leave the EU without losing status, with facilitated procedures (no integration test) for the re-acquisition of status after longer absences.

A person who has already acquired EU long-term residence status in one EU country should only need three years to acquire the same status in another EU member state. But the second country could decide whether to wait the completion of the five years before granting social benefits. 

The proposal also clarifies that EU long-term residents should have the same right as EU nationals with regard to the acquisition of private housing and the export of pensions, when moving to a third country. 

Why make these changes?

Although EU long-term residence exists since 2006, few people have benefited. “The long-term residents directive is under-used by the member states and does not provide for an effective right to mobility within the EU,” the Commission says. 

Around 3.1 million third-country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one. “we would like to make the EU long-term residence permit more attractive,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

The problems are the conditions to acquire the status, too difficult to meet, the barriers faced when moving in the EU, the lack of consistency in the rights of long-term residents and their family members and the lack of information about the scheme.

Most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one, an evaluation of the directive has shown.

READ ALSO: Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

This proposal is part of a package to “improve the EU’s overall attractiveness to foreign talent”, address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine. 

On 1 January 2021, 23.7 million non-EU nationals were residing in the EU, representing 5.3% of the total population. Between 2.25 to 3 million non-EU citizens move to the EU every year. More than 5 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring states since the beginning of the war in February. 

Will these measures also apply to British citizens?

These measures also apply to British citizens, whether they moved to an EU country before or after Brexit. 

The European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for a long-term residence too.

As Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit, the British in Europe coalition recommended those who need mobility rights to seek EU long-term residence status. 

These provisions do not apply in Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of the directive.

What happens next?

The Commission proposals will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. This is made of national ministers, who decide by qualified majority. During the process, the proposals can be amended or even scrapped. 

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

EU governments will be harder to convince. However, presenting the package, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said proposals are likely to be supported because “they fit in a broader framework”, which represents the “construction” of the “EU migration policy”. 

National governments are also likely to agree because large and small employers face skill shortages, “especially in areas that are key to our competitiveness, like agri-food, digital, tourism, healthcare… we need people,” Schinas said.

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