From 2017 to 2022, 497,000 immigrant women have arrived in Spain, as reported by the National Institute of Statistics (INE). Thousands of them with the same aspiration: to prosper in Spain.

The INE reported that Spain's population was 48,085,361 on January 1, 2023. Of this figure, 39,881,155 were born in Spain, while 8,204,206 were born abroad. According to their nationality, 41,995,741 were Spanish and 6,089,620 were foreigners.

The Report on the Population of Immigrant Origin in Spain 2023 examines the 20 largest resident population groups by country of birth, country of nationality and foreigners with residence permits. Among the largest population groups by country of birth are people from Morocco, Colombia, Romania, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Peru, United Kingdom, France, Cuba, Ukraine, Dominican Republic, China, Bolivia, Honduras, Germany, Brazil, Italy, Paraguay and Russia.

In 2022, the Spanish population increased by about 6.5 million people, representing a 7% growth in the number of foreign immigrants. In this group there are about 3.35 million male immigrants and 3.15 million female immigrants.

Despite the similar percentages, the migration process and the problems faced by each sex upon arrival in Spain vary significantly.

Women travel to Spain for a variety of reasons. In general, they come mainly as: family immigrants, although they may also come as immigrants for work, studies, asylum seekers or as part of another category of immigrants.

Thus, there is a wide range of legal statuses and rights among immigrant women, reflecting the differences in opportunities and integration challenges in each case.

Integration of immigrant women in Spain

Integration policy in Spain is a joint responsibility of state, regional and local institutions.

In Spain, the integration of immigrants is a political priority. However, women face more challenges than men. For this reason, several institutions emphasize the need to integrate immigrant women.

Barriers to the integration of immigrant women vary according to their residency status or their cause of migration, but there are also different unique possibilities for integration. Immigrant women are just as likely to be highly educated as non-immigrant women and are therefore more likely to be highly educated than immigrant men.

As a result, they are overrepresented not only at the bottom of the educational ladder, but also at the top, which is a strength that state integration policies and initiatives can build on. For example, by improving procedures to combat overqualification (in the case of immigrants this is when they work in jobs that do not correspond to their official qualifications), as immigrant women are more affected than immigrant men.

The latest EU data on national policies in 2017/2018 from Member States indicate a lack of integration initiatives tailored to immigrant women. In 2017, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) conducted research that revealed the low importance given to gender in national action plans and integration strategies.

In Spain, no specific state money is earmarked for integration programs targeting immigrant women, although funding can be obtained for initiatives related to migration issues. However, it must be recognized that extra points are awarded to programs that address gender issues.

In addition, as an EU Member State, Spain participates in the Action Plan for Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027, which builds on the 2016 action plan that also emphasized immigrant integration. These strategies prioritize gender mainstreaming and women's participation.

The 2016 action plan included 50 activities to help member states and other actors promote immigrant integration.

Here are some interesting examples of programs promoting the integration of immigrant women in Spain:

  • Sara Program: It has been active since 2013. The latest published information shows that in 2018-2019, 578 women were trained in 30 different job areas, obtaining a job placement rate of 20.19% in the six months following job training.
  • CLARA Program: it can be considered a good practice, since in its 2016-2018 edition, 25% of the women who participated in the program found a job.

Irregular migration

The research by Gálvez-Iniesta and Fanjul (Fundación PorCausa) is perhaps most notable for its prototype of the irregular immigrant entering Spain today. According to this research, the irregular immigrant woman would be described as a person in her 30s with a Colombian, Venezuelan or Honduran passport.

According to the study, women represent 55% of irregular immigration, and four out of five are under 40 years of age. Three quarters of them come from Central and South American countries, and the vast majority are Colombian, Venezuelan and Honduran. In these communities, unlike Bolivia or Ecuador, which benefited from the 2005 regularization, the number of irregular immigrants is relatively high: between 30% and 50%.

[IMAGEN] Distribución por edad de los diferentes grupos de población

Graph 1: Age distribution of the different population groups. Source: PorCausa and Univ. Carlos III.

[IMAGEN] Evolución de la irregularidad por origen (miles)

Graph 2: Evolution of irregularity by origin (thousands). Source: PorCausa and Univ. Carlos III.

And, as would be expected from anyone with a basic knowledge of the subject, most of these irregular immigrants work in the informal sector.

However, informal should not be confused with pejorative terms, as most of these professions are considered important jobs. Why? In other words.

In this regard, González-Gálvez and Fanjul estimate that the household sector has the highest concentration of irregular workers (80,000 people), which coincides with their results on the profile of immigrants. After domestic services, the hospitality sector has the second highest number of irregular workers (70,000).

Therefore, there is still a long way to go for integration policies to succeed in establishing measures to help women who migrate to Spain to integrate into the labor market in a way that is in line with the studies they bring from their countries.

[IMAGEN] Distribución sectorial de los trabajadores inmigrantes (% sobre datos de la EPA)

Graph 3: Sectoral distribution of immigrant workers (% of EAPS data).  Source: PorCausa and Univ. Carlos III.


As mentioned above, immigrant women face a variety of possibilities and obstacles. The Spanish government considers that the national integration program adequately addresses virtually all of their challenges, although it admits that housing is an issue that requires more attention.

On the other hand, various reports corroborate that there is little knowledge of the employment situation of immigrant women in Spain, as they often work in sectors of the underground economy, and no attention is paid to their special labor demands and concerns.

Almost half of the foreign women employed in Spain work in unskilled jobs in sectors such as hospitality and commerce, where they face unstable working conditions and lower wages than other groups. And according to the National Statistics Institute (INE), they also tend to work in feminized sectors such as caring for the elderly and children, as well as in domestic service. In addition, they can work up to 80 hours a week, despite the fact that the work regime is set at 40 hours, which leaves them vulnerable to labor exploitation due to lack of legal protection at work.

Most state initiatives cover civic integration, labor and gender violence, which are the main areas of focus for the integration of immigrant women in Spain. However, language training, housing and health, on the other hand, receive much less attention, although they should be addressed more regularly.

The Secretary of State for Migration has stated that it intends to update migration policies, implement measures in the labor sector, improve the reception system for the early detection of vulnerabilities and finance integration programs tailored to specific needs. However, although it has not explicitly stated that these policies are aimed at immigrant women, they are an important target in integration initiatives.

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