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Resident foreign population | Spain |

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Resident foreign population

Axel Kreienbrink

/ 4 Minuten zu lesen

The composition of the foreign population in Spain has changed considerably during the last two decades. Whereas immigrants from Latin America were formerly in the majority, Europeans meanwhile have once again come to represent the largest group due to immigration from Central and Eastern Europe. In addition, Africans continue to be an important immigrant group.

Figure 1: Foreign population by countries of origin, 2008 (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de

Among Europeans, EU citizens represented 80% of foreign residents, easily the largest group; however, this number has been decreasing since the 1990s, despite EU expansion. In 2008, according to the padrón municipal, the percentage of EU citizens among foreign residents was just 40.1%, despite the fact that the Romanians, for whom Spain has become the second most attractive destination in Europe after Italy , and the Bulgarians have meanwhile also become EU citizens. In 2008 Romanians accounted for 31.6% of European immigrants and 14% of the total foreign population in Spain, despite indications that they tend to be underrepresented in the padrón municipal. This makes them meanwhile the most numerous foreign European nationality in Spain, outnumbering the British (6.7% of all foreigners). Eastern Europeans and a substantial number of Portuguese immigrants come to Spain to avoid poverty in their own countries and to look for work. They find jobs primarily as non-skilled labour in industry, construction and, more recently, agriculture. Foreign citizens from Northern and Western Europe can be divided into two groups: the first is comprised of business people, qualified personnel and managers of international companies who live in the urban centres, and the second consists of pensioners wishing to spend their retirement in a warm Mediterranean climate. Spain has the largest contingent of foreign retirees in Europe. In other words, it is the most popular destination for "retirement migration" or "leisure-oriented senior migration".

At the beginning of 2008 Africans accounted for 17.2% of all foreigners in Spain. The majority of these were North Africans from Maghreb, in particular from Morocco. At 71.8% Moroccans were by far the largest African nationality and, alone, represented 12.3% of the total number of resident foreigners. In recent years migrants from sub-Saharan Africa have come from a more diverse range of countries, with Nigerians and Senegalese accounting for the greatest numbers.

The group of foreigners from the Americas is made up almost exclusively of Latin Americans, who account for 32.8% of all foreigners. They are thus an important factor in shaping current immigration trends. Whereas Argentineans, Venezuelans and Cubans originally dominated, other nationalities came to Spain as a result of particular circumstances: increasing economic hardship in Latin America in the 1990s, internal strife in some countries and the difficulties associated with immigrating to the US. Currently, Ecuadorians account for over a quarter of all Latin Americans (24.5%), followed by Columbians (16.4%), Bolivians (14%) and Argentinians (8.5%). Overall, Ecuadorians and Columbians were chiefly responsible for the rapid increase in Latin American immigration. Accordingly, in 2008 Ecuadorians, at 8%, were the third largest foreign nationality after Moroccans and Romanians. These figures do not include Latin Americans entitled to Spanish citizenship through Spanish parents or grandparents and who therefore entered the country on Spanish passports.

Among the relatively small number of immigrants from Asian countries (totalling 4.9%), Chinese account for nearly half. Pakistanis, Filipinos and Indians dominate the remainder of the group and represent 38% of Asian foreigners.

Figure 2: Regional distribution of foreigners in Spain's autonomous communities, 2008 (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de

The regional distribution of Spain's foreign population clearly shows that the agricultural regions along the Mediterranean coast as well as Barcelona and Valencia, the islands and the capital, Madrid, are key settlement areas. Nearly 80% of all foreigners reside in six of the 17 autonomous regions and two autonomous cities, namely (in order of total numbers) Catalonia, Madrid, Valencia, Andalusia, the Canary Islands and Murcia. A glance at the density of the foreign population extensively confirms this distribution. According to this, those regions in which the relative foreign population is above the 11.3% average for the country are the Balearics (20.8%), Valencia (16.7%), Madrid (15.9%), Murcia (15.7%), Catalonia (17.9%) and the Canary Islands (13.6%). The small autonomous community of La Rioja (13.7%) and Aragón (11.6%) also figure among this group.

The regional distribution of individual nationalities depicts a dual reality within the immigration picture. Spain offers respite for immigrants from northern regions of Europe who are in search of the sunnier south, whereas for those from Africa and Latin America, regions south of the Mediterranean, Spain is part of the wealthy North, offering employment opportunities. Accordingly, foreigners from EU countries (still) dominate in the warm Mediterranean regions and the Canary Islands. Latin Americans and Africans reside, above all, in the metropolitan areas of Madrid and Catalonia, including Barcelona, but can also be found in the agriculturally rich provinces.

According to Encuesta de población activa (EPA) data for the first quarter of 2008, three quarters of the foreign population who are of working age are available for the labour market. The proportion in gainful employment at that time was 65%, numbers having risen steadily over recent years. Those who were unemployed accounted for 14.7%, more than 5% above the average for Spain as a whole. The proportion of foreign workers who were not self-employed totalled 88%. As has been the case for years, areas in which most foreign workers are employed are firstly construction, followed by the hotel and catering industry, domestic work, retail, other services (companies offering services to other companies) and agriculture. In some cases foreigners form a considerable proportion of the workers in these areas in relation to the total workforce: in construction this proportion is almost 20%, and in the hotel and catering industry very nearly 25%. In line with the extensive 2005 campaign to legalise undocumented migrants, there has been an upward trend in the number of foreigners employed in construction, the hotel and catering industry, retail and other service industries in particular. By contrast, there has been a considerable reduction in domestic employment and a slight fall in the numbers employed in agriculture.



  1. Pajares (2007a) points, among other things, to the lack of information due to poor education among social networks and distrust as reasons for the lower registration in the padrón.

  2. Germans represent 3.5% of all immigrants.

  3. Rodríguez 1998.

  4. López García/ Berriane 2004, Martín Muñoz 2003.

  5. Gómez Ciriano et al. 2007.

  6. Instituto Nacional de Estadística 2003.

  7. Pajares 2007b.

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