After COVID exodus, Asian workforce plugs Malta’s labour shortages

Non-EU workers as of 2023 stand at double EU worker population, with Asian workforce totalling 34,000

File photo
File photo

Malta’s growing cohort of foreign workers from outside the EU has formally registered Indian nationals as the largest non-Maltese community on the islands.

Outstripping Italians as the largest non-Maltese community of workers, Indian nationals now total over 13,000 according to parliamentary data for July 2023.

Italian nationals totalled just over 11,500 during the same time period.

Altogether in July 2023, Malta was hosting 35,000 EU nationals together with 67,300 non-EU nationals, the latter also including 5,100 Britons.

But while the cohort of EU nationals has changed little, apart from having fallen due to an exodus during the 2021 pandemic, the communities of non-EU workers recruited for work in Malta have increased in droves, plugging great labour shortages.

For example, Indian workers increased by almost 300% since 2019 when they numbered just over 3,400. Similar rates of growth were registered for Nepalese, who today number over 8,100. Filipino workers have doubled since 2019 to 9,500.

And the largest growth in foreign workers since 2019 was registered among Colombians, who in 2019 numbered just 226, and today are over 3,400.

Regionally, Malta’s main cohort of non-EU workers hail from the subcontient and south-east Asia, namely India, Pakistan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, as well as the Philippines.

Altogether this region totals just over 34,000 in country of origin of non-EU workers, practically the same number as EU nationals.

COVID effect

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 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.

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.

Third-country nationals made up 83.1% of new residents in Malta in 2022, as the population grew by 21,798 in 2023, placing the Maltese population at 542,051.

The natural population increase, which refers to a higher number of births than deaths in 2022, saw record lows, as 4,309 residents were born in 2022, the lowest in the past 15 years. Resident deaths, on the other hand, were registered at 4,230.