MT Survey | Maltese fear 'invasion' by asylum seekers

The feeling of ‘invasion’ is the topmost concern for people when asked about asylum seekers and to a much lesser extent when asked about regular foreign workers

41.5% of Maltese have no concern at all over foreigners who legally work and live in Malta
41.5% of Maltese have no concern at all over foreigners who legally work and live in Malta

Malta’s relationship with foreigners is a love-hate affair that changes, depending on whether they are regular workers or asylum seekers, a MaltaToday survey has found.

While 41.5% of Maltese have no concern at all over foreigners who legally work and live in Malta, 41.2% fear that asylum seekers are ‘invading us’.

The feeling of ‘invasion’ is the topmost concern for people when asked about asylum seekers and to a much lesser extent (10.7%) when asked about regular foreign workers.

And while the list of concerns, for both categories of foreigners, includes aspects such as the threat to jobs, rising rental prices and more criminality, almost three quarters of Maltese see no fear of foreigners in the locality where they live.

This suggests that the debate on foreigners and asylum seekers, may be conditioned as much by perception as by reality.

But the survey did deliver an overwhelming response when people were asked if Malta could take in more foreigners. With the number of non-Maltese who have made the islands their home – even if temporarily growing exponentially over the past few years – the survey found that 90.6% believe Malta cannot take more foreigners.

Results in depth

Foreigners in Malta elicit no concern in 41.5% of people but many more have indicated some form of worry as the country continues to attract foreign labour.

People were asked to highlight the one thing that concerns them most on foreigners who work and live in Malta.

While a relative majority answered ‘nothing’, second in the list was the concern that foreigners were taking ‘our jobs’.

Despite record low unemployment and a jobs market that is constantly clamouring for more workers, 20.1% of people were concerned that foreigners were taking Maltese jobs.

Significantly, the third highest concern with a score of 10.7% was the abstract notion that foreigners are ‘invading us’.

The impact of foreigners on property prices and the increase in rents was a concern for 6.5% of respondents, followed by the fear that Malta will lose its culture and identity (5.8%).

The fear that foreigners will take our religion, which is something that was floated by Opposition leader Adrian Delia last May, is not a concern. But 5.8% are concerned that Malta may lose its culture and identity.

The rank order of concerns is broadly reflected across all regions apart from some blips.

Gozo is the only region where the concern on jobs upstages the ‘no concern’ category and occupies the top spot with 41.1%. This result is double the national average and possibly an indication of the sister island’s more precarious jobs market.

The highest level of concern on rising property prices and increasing rents as a result of the foreign influx is expressed in the Northern and the South-Eastern regions. In both regions, the concern hits the 11.1% mark, making it third highest in the Northern region and fourth in the South East.

A negative image of asylum seekers

People appear to distinguish between the foreigners who come here to fill job vacancies and asylum seekers, with the latter having a negative image attached to them.

The feeling that asylum seekers are ‘invading us’ is harboured by 41.2% of people and by far the highest concern.

While 24.5% mentioned some other reason, or could not identify a particular reason for their concern, third-placed was the concern over criminality at 16%.

Only 7.7% said they had no concern over asylum seekers.

The abstract notion that asylum seekers are ‘invading us’ is prevalent as the topmost concern across all regions except the Western region, where the more generic ‘Other’ tops the list with 38.8%.

The term ‘invasion’ was strongest in the South Eastern (51.8%) and the Southern Harbour (50.7%) regions. It gained the least mentions in the Western region with 17.5%.

The southern regions are probably conditioned by the higher concentration of asylum seekers in localities like Marsa, Hamrun and Birżebbuġa.

The concern that asylum seekers will take ‘our jobs’ is significantly higher in Gozo than anywhere else with 10.3% of Gozitans citing is as their top concern.

Concerns that asylum seekers will cause the loss of ‘our culture and identity’ were highest in the Western and Northern
regions with 12.4% and 10.4% respectively.

Concern that criminality will increase as a result of asylum seekers was highest in the Southern Harbour region with 22.1%.

The overriding feeling among people is that Malta cannot take in more foreigners, irrespective of who they are. When asked about this, 90.6% said the islands were full up, with only 6.8% saying that Malta could take in more foreigners.

Asked whether foreigners who have lived in Malta for more than 10 years should be able to vote, 61% said No.

Of the 32.1% who said foreigners should be able to vote, the strongest support came from those with a tertiary education (44.4%), those who live in the Western region (37.7%) and those aged between 36 and 50 (37.2%).

Between perception and the personal experience

The concerns with foreigners and asylum seekers that people expressed appear to be disjointed from the reality they encounter on a daily basis, according to the survey.

Despite the use of abstract notions such as ‘invasion’, or concerns over job losses, 73.1% of people said there was no fear of foreigners in the locality where they lived.

This indicates that on a personal level people do not necessarily experience the fear or concern they may harbour when speaking about foreigners and asylum seekers.

The highest levels of fear were flagged in the Northern Harbour and Northern regions with 35.6% and 26.3% respectively. On the flipside, people living in the South-Eastern region witnessed the lowest (16.5%) fear of foreigners in the locality where they lived.

But the survey also showed that regular interaction with foreigners, whether EU or non-EU nationals was not very high.

When asked whether they speak to foreigners from the EU on a regular basis outside the workplace, only 30.6% said Yes.

The highest number was registered among those aged 18-35, where 40.8% said they engaged regularly with EU nationals outside the workplace. Those with a tertiary education were also more likely to have engaged with foreigners.

A regional breakdown shows that people living in the Northern (39.7%) and Northern Harbour (33.1%) regions engaged regularly in conversation with EU nationals. Gozitans emerged as the least likely to engage with foreigners with only 22% saying they spoke regularly to EU nationals.

The numbers are not significantly different when people were asked the same question for non-EU nationals.

Only 25.3% said they conversed regularly with non-EU nationals, with the young being at the forefront of engagement with 34.7%.

The Northern region comes out on top in its engagement with foreigners from outside the EU (36.1%) while Gozo hits rock bottom with only 5.4% saying they regularly converse with non-EU nationals outside the workplace.

They came, they saw, they settled

Language, cultural and historical affinity appear to play an important part in how people perceive whether foreigners have integrated with Maltese society.

Asked to identify the nationality of people they feel have best integrated in Malta, 25.5% mentioned Italians, followed by 21.5% who identified the British.

While 17.2% did not know what to answer, only a mere 2.9% said all nationalities managed to integrate well.

Of note are significant references, albeit small, to Filipinos (4.4%), Serbs (3.7%), Libyans (2.2%) and Syrians (2%), which people also felt had integrated well.



The survey was carried out between Monday 18 June and Friday 22 June, 2018.  Stratified random sampling defined by age, gender and region discriminants was used to replicate the fidelity of the population. 562 respondents chose to take part. The margin of error for a confidence interval of 95% is estimated at 4.2%.