Spain would not function without the millions of immigrants who work there

by Lorraine Williamson
immigrants in Spain

MADRID – The newspaper El País describes a hypothetical day in Spain when all 5.4 million foreigners who work there stay at home. They appear to be a fundamental pillar for the economy and society of the country. 

In Spain, there are more than 5.4 million immigrants: 11.6% of the population. More than 400,000 of them are in an illegal situation, according to a survey by the Fundación por Causa and the Carlos III University of Madrid. 

All together they form a huge group of workers, visible and invisible, on which important sectors of the Spanish economy, such as agriculture, catering and construction, rely. They also support much of the health and private care sector. And a contribution to Social Security with 2.3 million taxpayers. Of these, six in ten come from countries outside the European Union. El País concludes that without them Spain would not function. The newspaper wants to provide insight into the enormous weight in the economy and society of this collective. Therefore, they propose a hypothetical day without immigrants with the following result. 


The largest wholesale market in Madrid would no longer know what to do with the fruit and vegetables. The vast majority of the men who stack, load, catalogue and order the 6,000 tons of fruit and vegetables shipped to Mercamadrid every day are immigrants. Together they ensure that this macro market works. If one day they didn’t show up en masse, all of central Spain would be without fruit. 

Barcelona is dirty and without taxis

On that hypothetical day without immigrants, Barcelona would be dirty and almost without taxis. There would also be no bars or restaurants. And everything would be dirtier, because cleaning Barcelona, ​​inside and outside the public road, usually hires migrants. 

Construction stops 

In some autonomous communities, such as Navarre, a third of construction workers are foreigners. In Madrid, it is 16%. Without immigrants, the sector would collapse from north to south. From the largest government works in Madrid, the construction of the Doce de Octubre hospital, to the apartment buildings in the suburbs or the minor interior or retail reforms. 

Villages without children 

In Chalamera, a town in Huesca with 100 inhabitants, the mayor (PSOE) launched a shock plan to save the school (and therefore the city). The 2020-2021 school year ended with only one student, a Moroccan boy. Without more children, Chalamera’s future would be uncertain. In the end, two families were attracted. One Romanian and one Moroccan. Together they brought five new children to the village. Immigrants, 30% of the population, don’t just revive schools. For example, the municipal swimming pool is run by a Colombian. 

Carlos stays in bed because nobody picks him up 

Carlos would not get out of bed on this day without immigrants because of his help from El Salvador. The healthcare sector is most dependent on foreigners. Within the special home systems, they represent 43.52% of the workers. 164,848 people, most of them women who take care of dependents, children and cleaning duties. This number does not include all cleaners and helpers who work black in households in Spain. 

Cogesa Expats

Catering would be partly unmanned 

The search for the foreigner is practically in vain in Benidorm and the surrounding area. In the region of Valencia, the hotel industry concentrates the highest percentage of foreigners, 16.37%. The same goes for Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y León or Galicia. In the Canary Islands, it reaches 40%. 

Chaos in the waiting room of the health centre 

Up to 70 patients can be seen in one morning by the Navalmoral de la Mata health centre in Cáceres, but today there are no doctors. The waiting room is a mess. The coordinator of the centre, Venezuelan doctor José Alejandro Pinto, did not show up for work. Neither four other compatriots, nor the Bolivian doctor, nor the two Argentine doctors who consult in that health centre. Also in all surrounding cities, there would be no healthcare without foreign doctors. Healthcare services are deteriorating due to the lack of professionals. 

Agricultural fields are empty 

The percentage of immigrants working in the Spanish campo reaches 23%. In some regions, this figure is even higher. One of these places is El Ejido and its surroundings in the province of Almeria. Here 70% of those working in the ‘mar de plásticos’ are foreign. The majority come from Morocco, Romania and Senegal according to data from the Argos Observatory of the Andalucian Employment Service. That is, the greenhouses would remain nearly empty on a hypothetical day without immigrants. 

María Luisa González, immigration minister of the workers’ commissions, confirms that the greenhouses employ between 25,000 and 30,000 people who are more or less illegal. “They’re an essential pillar, but they’re not valued that way,” González says. All those people earn less than minimum wage and work “endless days and Monday to Saturday and often Sundays and holidays” to tend and harvest our fruits and vegetables. 

No fishermen 

One-third of the seamen in the province of Lugo come from outside Spain. Part of the fishing fleet here would stay ashore if all the foreigners didn’t show up for work one day. In a fishing boat with 15 or 13 men, there are often more than 10 of foreign origin. In the past, many Cape Verdeans and now many Indonesians. 

Read here the entire article in El País, in which all kinds of employees in the aforementioned sectors also speak for a better picture of their lives and their importance to the Spanish economy and society. 

Also read: Spain needs more migrants to keep the economy going

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