A day full of retribution and which served as the cornerstone of the labor movement during the time of the Industrial Revolution. This day, which was declared a holiday in 1889 by the Socialist Labor Congress of the Second International, is considered the birthplace of the eight-hour workday that is standard practice today.

May 1st is a public holiday celebrated in all the autonomous communities of Spain. It is the third of the eight non-replaceable holidays throughout the year, after the Epiphany of the Lord, on January 6, and Good Friday, on April 7.

The beginnings of today's celebrations

A late 19th century labor movement in the United States and Europe gave rise to today's Labor Day celebration.

The main objective of this movement was to fight for improved working conditions and an eight-hour workweek. In the United States, a general strike was organized on May 1, 1886, to demand the above-mentioned demands. The Chicago protest provoked a brutal police response that came to be remembered as the Haymarket Square Massacre. During this incident, both protesters and police officers lost their lives.

May Day came to be considered an important milestone in the struggle for workers' rights and was eventually adopted as a day of remembrance for workers' struggles around the world. The International Congress of the Second International met in Paris in 1889, and at that time it was decided that May 1 would be celebrated as International Workers' Day.

Throughout its history, Labor Day has been a day of vindication and protest for the rights of workers and community members. Even in modern times, it remains a public holiday in Spain, and on this day workers are honored for their contributions to the growth and advancement of the nation.

On the eve of such a vindicating date, we ask ourselves: what is the situation of the immigrant working class in Spain?

Here are some conclusions and considerations.

Spanish labor market and immigration

It is crucial to remember the dynamics of Spain's economic development in order to understand the roots of the significant immigration process that began in the early 2000s and ended in 2008. At that time, Spain was experiencing an exceptional period of economic expansion, which resulted in the creation of 4.7 million new jobs, according to data from the National Statistics Institute (INE).

Only 2.2 million new jobs were filled by native workers. Therefore, it was necessary for 2.5 million foreigners to enter the Spanish labor market. This represented approximately 5 out of every 10 new jobs.

[IMG] Country of birth of the foreign population of Spain. Source: EPA (INE).

Fig 1: Country of birth of the foreign population of Spain. Source: EPA (INE). Population in family dwellings. Fourth quarter of 2021. Region of Foreign Country of Birth (Regardless of Nationality).

During the 2000-2007 expansionary phase, approximately half of the GDP growth was supported by population growth and, in turn, 82% of the population increase was attributable to immigration. All of this occurred during the period of economic expansion.

Another interesting aspect to consider is the attainment of Spanish nationality.

Spanish nationality is clearly a milestone in terms of integration, but it is also a desire that many immigrants want to make a reality, initiating the procedures as soon as they meet the conditions.

The total population is made up of 41,995,741 Spanish residents and 6,089,620 individuals of foreign nationality.

According to the INE, more than 1 million people have obtained Spanish nationality in the last 8 years, which is an average of about 135,000 people per year. Therefore, the majority (82.5%) of these naturalized citizens were not born in Spain.

The data also tell us that significant immigration flows have been maintained despite the economic crisis. Why?

In our opinion:

  • A first explanation may lie in the fact that migration is, to a large extent, a process of mobility with a vocation for permanence, which means that the return of foreigners in the short and medium term is not always a routine behavior. In other words, migration has a vocation for permanence.
  • On the other hand, migration is fundamentally a phenomenon of family displacement, which requires continuous processes of family regrouping. The networks that are gradually woven in the host countries create a constant dynamic of recruitment of new migrants, even if the experience is often not entirely rewarding.

The contribution of immigration to the Spanish labor market and the economy in general is indisputable; however, the question of how to better integrate immigrants into society at the socioeconomic level remains unresolved today.

However, although the majority of the immigrant population works in basic, low-paying occupations, 94% say they are made to feel welcome. Moreover, despite the fact that the majority of the immigrant population reports a strong sense of belonging, their job and wage stability remains remarkably low.

It is important to keep in mind that not all foreigners who have lived in Spain have done so for the same length of time. Therefore, their contribution and impact on the labor market varies. The length of residence is a determining factor in their labor market integration.

And this is so not only for the obvious reasons associated with a better knowledge of the socio-labor environment, but also because, for many foreigners, their administrative and, consequently, labor status is linked to the length of their stay.

This is true not only with respect to the renewals provided for in the general regime, but also with respect to the regularization opportunities offered by the arraigo procedure. More than half of non-Spaniards, i.e. 54%, have been living in Spain for more than 13 years, almost a third of them for more than 18 years and 8% for more than 24 years. At the other extreme, 6% of non-Spanish residents have been in the country for less than one year, and almost a quarter (23%) have been in the country for less than four years.

[IMG] Length of residence in Spain of the foreign population

Fig 2: Length of residence in Spain of the foreign population. Source: EPA (INE). Fourth quarter of 2021.

Importance of the foreign population in the Spanish labor market

According to the results of the Labor Force Survey (fourth quarter of 2021), the number of people born outside Spain was 6.7 million, 14.3% of the total. If we take into account only their nationality, regardless of where they were born or grew up, the figure is lower (5.2 million). But dual nationality adds the remaining 1.5 million.

Although the weight of the immigrant population no longer exceeds 15%, more than 62% of the new active population, introduced into the labor market from 2002 to 2022, comes from outside Spain. Although the size of the Spanish labor force has decreased by more than 135,000 people in the last 5 years, the entire increase (more than 540,000 people) is attributable to immigrants.


The idea of demographic winter, defined as the constant process of aging and decline in the number of people of working age, is often related to the impact of the immigrant population on the economy of the destination country.

Since 2002, according to the INE, the number of working-age Spaniards born in Spain has decreased by more than 1 million people, while the number of working-age Spaniards born abroad has increased by approximately 4.2 million.

If all foreign-born people employed in the Spanish economy were to leave tomorrow, the total number of employed people would fall to 16.9 million, 20% below its all-time high. Even if all vacancies were filled by Spaniards now looking for work, the number of employed would still fall below 19.3 million, almost 10% below its all-time high.

Undoubtedly, immigration plays an important and growing role in the Spanish labour market, as immigrants will account for almost 20% of employment in the first quarter of 2023. This impact is particularly noticeable in certain types of employment and industries, such as agriculture or construction.

In recent years, the vast majority of newly created jobs have been filled by people from other countries, accounting for close to 100% of new jobs in the private sector.

The management of migration flows in Spain is inadequate, given its high levels of unemployment, both among native Spaniards and foreigners, which are not accurately reflected in official statistics. Despite this, in recent years there has been a continuous influx of new immigration, predominantly from non-EU countries.