After COVID exodus of EU workers, third-country nationals bolstered Maltese workforce

FULL DATA: COVID-19 marked a significant change in workforce, with a massive dip in EU nationals accompanied by higher 26% growth in third-country national workers mainly in the lower salary ranges in terms of jobs

They will do the job... non-EU nationals have taken up a small chunk of the Maltese workforce to do jobs in the lower salary ranges
They will do the job... non-EU nationals have taken up a small chunk of the Maltese workforce to do jobs in the lower salary ranges

The COVID-19 pandemic marked a significant shift in Malta’s workforce, where the foreign component of employees hailed in the majority from outside the European Union.

In 2020, a drop in the number of EU nationals, prompted in part by a curtailing of economic activity due to the COVID lockdown as well as voluntary returns to their home countries, was accompanied by a rise in non-EU workers.

EU nationals have formed the bulk of foreign workers in Malta, especially with the remote gaming boom of the early 2010s. But a decade later, COVID-19 saw the number of EU nationals falling by 18% over just one year, yet non-EU nationals increased by almost 26%, outstripping the portion of EU workers that make up Malta’s foreign workforce.

Data collected by MaltaToday shows EU workers increasing rapidly from 5,300 in 2009 to 9,500 in 2012; then always increasing by an average rate of 5,000 workers a year to reach almost 37,000 in 2019.

A year later, EU workers fell to 31,000 during the COVID-19 pandemic, and then climb slowly to 34,000 in 2021.

With non-EU nationals, which numbered just over 4,100 in 2009, the growth was slower, doubling to almost 10,000 by 2016. It was in this year that intense importation of foreign labour in Malta took place, with non-EU nationals growing to 14,000 in 2017, then 21,000 in 2018, 30,000 in 2019, and again to 38,000 in 2020.

By 2021, the amount of gainfully employed ‘third-country nationals’ in Malta had reached 43,500, well over the 34,000 EU nationals in the Maltese workforce.

Growing Asian workforce

The data shows that non-EU workers in 2021 mainly hailed from the Philippines – who increased five-fold over just five years – India, Serbia, and Nepal, with large components of Albanian, Turkish and Pakistani workers. The increase in workers from South Asia, often recruited by agencies, comes in the wake of the rise of the gig economy, particularly during the COVID pandemic as well as increased demand for health workers.

EU workers in Malta however mainly hail from Italy, with just over 11,000 registered in the Maltese workforce in 2021 – doubling in size over the course of five years – with English (no longer EU members) following with 5,500 workers.

Sub-Saharan workers, a portion of them accounting for Malta’s asylum claimant population, are among the smaller nationalities represented in the national workforce, with 577 Nigerians, followed by 466 Somalis and 367 Eritreans.

Jobs and salaries

Data tabled in the House of Representatives by the finance minister in reply to a question from Nationalist MP Ivan Castillo, shows non-EU nationals firmly occupying Malta’s lowest-paying jobs.

In the ranges that start from annual €10,000 salaries, €15,000 and €20,000, non-EU nationals total almost 30,000 – representing just over 70% of the non-EU workforce.

The data also shows they represent less than 5% of the total (Maltese, EU and TCN) workforce.

The reality is entirely different at the top, where a minimal amount of non-EU nationals occupy higher-paying jobs.

Jobsplus data also shows that non-EU workers tend to be mainly employed in elementary jobs (11,000), service or sales workers (9,500), and then as craft tradesmen (5,000).

EU nationals previously outnumbered non-EU counterparts in many economic sectors. Now third-country nationals outnumber EU workers in the professional and support service sector; construction, and manufacturing; health work; accommodation and food service. EU nationals are predominant in finance and real estate, arts and entertainment, wholesale, transport, logistics and IT.