CES examines immigration and the labour market

Download article in original language : ES0410203FES.DOC

In July 2004, the tripartite Economic and Social Council (CES) adopted a report examining the phenomenon of immigration in Spain, stressing the increasing importance of immigrants from non-EU countries from the viewpoint of integration in the labour market. In addition to providing figures, the report makes recommendations for improving the integration of immigrants into the labour market.

The Economic and Social Council (Consejo Económico y Social, CES) is a tripartite body that draws up reports that are used as a reference point for building dialogue between the social partners and the government. On 5 July 2004, it published a report, adopted by consensus, which analyses immigration in Spain (ES0409209F, ES0401204F, ES0405204F and ES0209204F). The main points of the study (La inmigración y el mercado de trabajo en España, Colección Informes, CES, Madrid, 2004) are summarised below.

Integration of immigrants in the labour market

In recent years the annual inflow of immigrants from outside the EU has come close to 1 million people across the Union, and is particularly high in the countries of southern Europe which were formerly exporters of immigrants to other countries. The importance of the phenomenon in Spain can be seen from the figures - the Municipal Register of Inhabitants (Padrón Municipal de Habitantes), the Census of Population and Dwellings (Censo de Población y Viviendas) and the Survey of the Active Population (Encuesta de Población Activa, EPA) are the statistical sources most used to examine immigration. These reveal that:

  • the number of immigrants per 1,000 persons in Spain was 6.0 in 2000, 5.6 in 2001 and 5.5 in 2003, which is double the average of the 'old' EU 15;
  • in 2003 Spain received 23% of the net migration of the EU, though its population is less than 11% of the EU 15 total;
  • in late 2003, there were 1.6 million foreign nationals with residence permits in Spain, compared with 0.3 million in 1991. There were 2.7 million immigrants entered in the population register, representing 6% of the inhabitants, compared with 1.4% in 1996; and
  • in 1991 more than 50% of the registered foreign nationals were from EU countries. In 1996 the figure was 46% and in 2003 only 22%.

The most significant characteristics and tendencies of immigration are as follows:

  • an increase of immigration from Central and South America in recent years, which is growing far more than immigration from Africa;
  • according to census figures, 60% of the non-EU immigrants come from five countries of origin - Ecuador (390,000 persons), Morocco (379,000), Colombia (244,000), Romania (137,000) and Argentina (109,000);
  • the Balearic Islands, Catalonia, Madrid, the Canary Islands and Murcia are the regions (autonomous communities) with the highest proportions of immigrants;
  • there has been an increase in the number of immigrant women, which grew five-fold five between 1996 and 2003 and now equals that of men. There are many women from Central and South America, particularly Ecuador, from which there are more women than men. On the other hand, among the immigrants from Morocco, the number of men is more than double that of women;
  • immigrants from outside the EU have a lower average age than Spanish nationals. Their relative youth affects their presence in the labour market; and
  • the average level of education of the immigrant population, in particular those aged 20 to 49, is almost as high as that of Spanish nationals. Only among immigrants from Africa (10% illiterate and 25% without education) is the level of education far lower.

With regard to integration in the labour market, the immigrant population has a higher participation rate and a higher unemployment rate than the Spanish. In more detail:

  • the labour market participation rates of immigrant men from outside the EU is 78%, which is higher than the Spanish rate. Among immigrant women, those from Central and South America and non-EU European countries also have higher participation rates than Spanish nationals, but those from African countries do not;
  • the unemployment rate among the non-EU immigrant population is almost three points higher than that of Spanish nationals. The highest proportion of unemployed immigrants is made up by Moroccans (34% of unemployed foreign national)s, followed by Ecuadorians (12%);
  • just over 25% of non-EU unemployed people receive some unemployment benefit, which is less than half the rate for unemployed Spanish nationals;
  • there were 925,000 foreign workers contributing to social security in late 2003 (6% of all contributors), 78% of whom were non-EU nationals;
  • people from Morocco and Ecuador form the majority of non-Spanish social security contributors, at 27% and 23% respectively of non-EU contributors (18% and 15% of all foreign contributors). The proportions of Moroccans among male contributors (35% of non-EU contributors) and of Ecuadorians among female contributors (25%) were high;
  • there are few immigrants contributing to the special social security system for self-employed workers (Régimen Especial de Autónomos), at 6.1% of immigrants compared with an overall average of 16.5%, and many in the special agricultural system (Régimen Agrario), at 13% of foreign workers compared with an average of 7%, and in the special domestic system (Régimen Especial del Hogar);
  • female immigrant workers are concentrated in services, above all in hotels and catering and domestic work, which employ almost 52% of those in this group who are employed (11% of female Spanish nationals work in these sectors);
  • male immigrant workers are concentrated in agriculture and construction, which employ 47% of them and only 23% of male Spanish nationals. Hotels and catering, with 9.5% of employed male immigrants, is the next sector in importance;
  • a far higher proportion of the jobs occupied by non-EU immigrants are unskilled than those filled by Spanish nationals and immigrants from EU countries. According to the 2001 Census of Population and Dwellings, 38.7% of this group are unskilled workers, compared with 11.2% among Spanish nationals and 8.5% among workers from elsewhere in the EU; and
  • the overall rate of temporary employment is very high in Spain. The position of the immigrants from outside the EU in the labour market is subordinate and typical of its 'secondary segment'. It is therefore not surprising that the vast majority of immigrants are employed on temporary contracts.

Regulation of the work of foreign nationals

The access of non-EU immigrants to a job in Spain depends on the various types of authorisation to work - the 'general system' (régimen general) and the system of quotas (ES0112244F).

With regard to quotas and seasonal work permits, Spain has agreements with several countries of origin (Morocco, Colombia, Ecuador, Rumania, the Dominican Republic, Poland and Bulgaria). However, the method used to determine the quotas has been one of the most controversial aspects of this system, and the quotas have led to few employment contracts, rising from 5,197 authorisations in 1993 to a maximum of 39,879 in 1999. Only 43.4% of the 2002 quota of 32,079 jobs was filled. Modifications to the system avoided this problem in 2003, when 25,532 authorisations to work were granted. However, this is a very modest figure in terms of the regulation of the work of immigrants.

The 'general system' requires that all non-EU immigrants over the age of 16 who wish to work must have a residence permit and an authorisation to work that must be obtained previously by the employer. The authorisation is granted when, in the whole country, there are insufficient workers for the jobs requested and the Public Employment Service (Servicio Público de Empleo) has been unable to fill them. The legislation on which the general system is based dates back to 1985, and has been subject to many reforms, the last of which was Law 4/2000 on the rights of foreign people in Spain, reformed by Law 8/2000 of the same year (ES0012224N and ES0004183F). Because of the many changes that have been made to the regulations, the link between immigration and work is a complex question in administrative terms. Therefore, the report by the CES recommends improvements in the administrative processing of authorisations to work.

Furthermore, the work of foreign nationals has also been subject to 'special legalisation'. This has attempted to deal with illegal situations outside the mechanisms established by the general system or the quota system. Since the passing of Law 7/1985 on foreign persons, there have been five sets of special legalisation measures. The last two were established by Law 4/2000 (offering over 160,000 authorisations to work) and its reform at the end of the same year (offering over 240,000 authorisations). However, this did not put an end to the existence of illegal immigrants. The CES report expresses awareness of this, though the proposals that it makes refer basically to regulatory aspects linked to the general system or to the quota system.

Proposals for improvements

The CES makes a number of proposals for improvements in the relationship of immigrants with the labour market. The main proposals are to:

  • improve the relationship between the supply of immigrant labour and the demands of employers by reinforcing the collaboration between the Public Employment Services and the employers' organisations and trade unions through 'programme contracts';
  • increase the intervention of trade unions and employers so that the quota system is better adapted to real employment needs;
  • simplify the procedures of the general system, making them faster and more transparent and improving the statistical information available; and
  • organise training programmes in countries of origin through collaboration agreements to ensure that workers are suitably qualified.

With regard to illegal immigrants, the report recommends that a response to situations in which there is a link to the labour market should be facilitated, and the 'summoning effect', whereby legalisation encourages more immigrants to come to Spain, should be avoided. It also recommends the strengthening of border controls and of the mechanisms for detecting illegal recruitment.


The CES report deals adequately with the available figures on the integration in employment of the immigrant population and explains their subordinate position in the labour market, above all in the case of non-EU immigrants. However, its proposals refer basically to improving the functioning of mechanisms that have so far proved inadequate as a means of regulating immigrants and their access to work, and it fails to suggest measures for dealing with their subordinate position. Furthermore, the report recognises the existence of a large number of illegal immigrants who work without contracts and in extremely precarious conditions. Its proposals - making labour inspections more thorough and providing permits to those who can prove they are working - are adequate, though they could be more specific and provide a more thorough assessment of the extent of illegal work. In line with these proposals, the public administration is considering the possibility of legalising people in employment at the proposal of employers. Employers have often used immigrant labour illegally without contracts in order to reduce costs. Placing the legalisation of workers in their hands is unlikely to bring about great progress in this area or lead to an improvement in the working conditions of many non-EU immigrants, particularly if the labour inspection process is not made more thorough, as the report suggests. (Andreu Lope, QUIT-UAB)

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Add new comment