E.g., 06/22/2024
E.g., 06/22/2024
A Precarious Position: The Labor Market Integration of New Immigrants in Spain

This report assesses how new immigrants to Spain fare in the country's labor market, evaluating the conditions under which they are able to find employment, and their progress out of unskilled work into middle-skilled jobs. The report is part of a series of six case studies on labor market outcomes among immigrants to European Union countries.

New immigrants to Spain have very different experiences entering the labor market depending on when they arrived in the country. The report analyzes Spanish Labor Force Survey data from 2000 through 2011, finding that immigrants who arrived before the 2008 recession had little trouble finding work immediately, but those who arrived after 2008 struggled to find work as Spanish unemployment rates skyrocketed.

This report is part of a research project funded by the European Union and conducted in collaboration with the International Labour Office. The case studies in this phase of the project consider the influence of individual characteristics and broader economic conditions on the employment prospects of foreign-born workers. The second phase will evaluate the effectiveness of integration and workforce development policies in helping foreign-born workers overcome these barriers and move up into middle-skilled positions that pay a family-sustaining wage. The six case study countries are the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.


This project is funded by the European Union

Immigrants’ individual characteristics had a limited effect on their employment trajectories—all groups who arrived before the recession had higher employment rates the longer they stayed in Spain. However, some groups started out in a better position than others. Immigrants from Latin America had the easiest time finding work within their first year in Spain, while African immigrants had the lowest employment rates on arrival. Men started in a better position than women and maintained their advantage over time.

Spain has a flexible secondary labor market that allows immigrants to easily find work and move up over time, but this type of employment also put them at greater risk once the recession hit. For example, although many immigrants who arrived in Spain between 2000 and 2007 were able to find work and eventually move out of the low-skilled positions, the nature of their jobs meant that they were not protected from the recession, and many became unemployed as the economy shed low- and middle-skilled jobs in sectors dominated by immigrants. In the long term, Spain will likely need immigrants to cover labor shortages because of its aging population and the emigration of native-born workers to other countries. As Spain works its way towards economic recovery, policymakers should consider the implications of this report's findings for integrating future immigrant workers. The findings suggest that for many workers, finding middle-skilled work alone isn’t enough, and integration policies could aim to help workers transition from the secondary to the primary labor market in order to find their way into more stable employment. 

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Immigrants' Employment Rates

Influence of Individual Characteristics on Employment Outcomes

III. Immigrants' Upward Mobility

A. Changes in Employment among Immigrants

B. Changes in Employment among Low-Skilled Immigrants

C. The Influence of Individual Characteristics on Employment

D. Employment and Occupational Paths of Low-Skilled Immigrants by Country of Origin

IV. Sectors in Which Immigrants Work

A. Movement Between Sectors

B. Influence of Individual Characteristics on Sector of Employment

V. Conclusions