Immigration is currently in a phase of professionalisation. In Spain, since 2023, the presence of foreigners in positions related to health, education and the business environment has increased considerably.

More and more companies are realising the need to incorporate high-level experts and researchers from other countries into their workforces. Despite the need for work visas and residence permits, Spanish companies are now able to hire these people thanks to the ease of international mobility favoured by Spanish regulations.

Immigrants affiliated to the Social Security currently represent 13.1% of the total active population, and their rate of growth indicates a diversification of employment.

Immigration, like Spanish society in the mid-20th century, is currently undergoing a period of professionalisation. In the last year there has been a substantial increase in the number of foreigners in the health, education and business sectors.

A bit of history

The Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration recently revealed that the number of foreign associates in Spain has exceeded 2.7 million, an increase of 8.1% over the previous year. Foreign placements in Spain are concentrated in the more conventional sectors, such as construction, hotels and catering and agriculture, which account for almost one million people.

On the other hand, in terms of specialised sectors, the trend is divergent in relative terms.

In terms of immigrants, healthcare employment has experienced the third highest evolution since January 2024, with an expansion of 11.5% per year. It is followed by scientific and technical activities and financial activities, with a combined growth of 10.8%. The two remaining sectors are construction (11.8%) and hotels and restaurants (13.7%).

According to IESE professor and economist José Ramón Pin, the influx of immigrants from European and Latin American countries seems to be a reaction to this emerging market trend. Professor Pin says that the current influx of foreigners to Spain from Colombia, Venezuela and Italy has a "high level of training", which allows them to secure employment in jobs that require increasing experience and complexity.

He also believes that this paradigm will "push it to evolve" rather than supplant the more conventional one. He asserts, however, that the registration system needs to be improved. The professor argues that the data lacks reliability in representing the foreign population in Spain due to the omission of factors such as the presence of foreign retirees, second-generation immigrants and the legal principle of "ius sanguinis", which grants nationality by consanguinity.

With the publication of Law 14/2013 on 27 September 2013, legislation was introduced to provide assistance to companies and facilitate their expansion in foreign markets. This legislation allows for the recruitment of foreign workers.

Please note that the right of free movement and residence allows any citizen or national of an EU Member State or other foreign legal entity to live and work freely in Spain. With your EU Blue Card in hand, it should not be a problem to get hired.

What does it mean to be a highly qualified professional?

As a general rule, a Highly Qualified Professional (HQP) refers to:

  • A skilled/technical worker who performs tasks requiring advanced knowledge and skills, and an executive or manager who supervises a team of subordinates.
  • Have a higher qualification and/or at least 3 years of professional experience in the position or activity for which the authorisation is granted. To be considered as a highly qualified professional, you must have highly specialised training, together with previous work experience equivalent to the function. Higher education qualification" means any higher education training (e.g. university degree, bachelor's degree, master's degree). It is essential that you demonstrate that you have a level of education and qualifications appropriate to a highly qualified profession or an advanced research programme or at least 3 years' comparable experience.
  • They carry out technical and specialised or management work.

In addition, persons who do not hold a university degree may be eligible if they can demonstrate substantial professional experience in the field, namely by performing activities comparable to those required by the recruiting organisation and provided that minimum annual salaries are respected.

Two groups or types of highly qualified professionals are distinguished:

  • Persons engaged in work or professional activities.
  • Persons engaged in training, research and development activities.

To be considered a Highly Qualified Professional, the authorities carefully assess the worker's training and experience, taking into account the specific function of the position, whether as technical or managerial staff.

A PAC has the option to obtain the specific work permit, which grants the right to reside and work in Spain for an initial duration of 3 years.

The authorisation may be extended for consecutive periods of 2 years, provided that the circumstances that gave rise to the first residence and work permit are maintained.

Legal framework

In Spain, according to the Law to support entrepreneurs and their internationalisation, a foreigner can obtain a visa, a residence permit and a work permit for economic interest if he or she belongs to one of the following groups:

  • Highly qualified professionals.
  • Workers making inter-company movements within the same company or group of companies.

Compared to the traditional approach, the recruitment of highly qualified foreign professionals through Law 14/2013 has more advantages, such as:

  • Fast-track process with very tight deadlines. The processing of the authorisation will take 20 days, while the processing of the visa will take 10 days.
  • The minimum age requirement is 18 years. However, there is no upper age restriction.
  • The authorisation grants you permission to both live and work. It applies to the entire Spanish national territory.
  • You can be in your place of origin/residence or legally residing in Spain (e.g. on a non-profit visa or while in Spain as a tourist).
  • The national employment catalogue and its job vacancies are not applicable.
  • If your spouse and/or children undergo joint processing, you will be able to come to Spain in the company of your relatives.

On occasions, it may not be feasible to apply the Law to Support Entrepreneurs and their Internationalisation.

When it is not feasible to use the Law to Support Entrepreneurs and their Internationalisation to hire highly qualified foreign professionals, there is always the traditional way. To do this, it is essential to advertise the vacancy at the employment office and check that it is not covered by any national or foreign worker with a valid work visa.

In these cases, it is necessary to try to obtain a work and residence permit under the provisions of Organic Law 4/2000, of 11 January, on the rights and freedoms of foreigners in Spain and their social integration.

Therefore, if your job offer is not included in the "Catalogue of positions that are difficult to fill", your company must advertise it at the employment office.

You may only hire a foreign professional, who does not have a residence or work permit in Spain, if it is impossible to find a professional resident in Spain, national or foreign, who meets the legal requirements for the position. Also, if the worker is of Chilean or Peruvian nationality.

What is the HQP visa in Spain?

The Highly Qualified Professionals (HQP) visa is a type of residence permit that grants non-EU nationals the legal right to reside and work in Spain, provided they have a highly qualified job.

This residence visa authorises residence for a period of 3 years or for the duration of the contract, whichever is shorter. After the expiry of this period, individuals have the option to apply for an extension of their residence permit for a duration of 2 years. In addition, they have the opportunity to obtain permanent resident status after a period of 5 years.

Other advantages of this visa are the possibility to reside and work legally. It also offers the freedom to travel without restrictions within the Schengen Area and the privilege to bring your family to Spain with you from the beginning. However, it will be the EU Blue Card work permit that, with the same requirements, will allow you to work in any EU country. Work is currently underway on a single permit that will allow these workers to move throughout the EU, so that there is less bureaucracy involved.

You may be interested to know about the risks of the Highly Qualified Professional (HQP) visa in Spain.

How long does it take to get a work visa in Spain?

The legal deadline for a decision is 1 month from the day following the date of submission of the application, but this deadline may be extended when additional documents or an interview is requested.

If all the required documentation has been duly submitted, the average resolution period varies according to the type of visa (studies: 30 days, Investors: 10 days, etc.) and in the case that documentation needs to be completed, the resolution will depend on the time it takes to provide it.

Profiles most in demand

More and more Spanish companies, especially Basque ones, are looking for qualified personnel in the Latin American labour market.

The use of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, in the field of human resources is initiating an accelerated process of digitisation in the search for the necessary qualified personnel.

The LKS Next Salary Guide highlights that the most in-demand profiles are those with technical training, fluency in several languages and managerial experience supervising human teams. Specifically, project managers in industrial companies, R&D technicians, electronic technicians, key account managers, purchasing managers and IT analysts.

Ander Sansinenea, Director of People Consulting at LKS Next, highlighted in the presentation of the report that companies in the Basque Country not only prioritise professional talent, but also look for people with other competencies, such as: greater leadership and negotiation skills, effective team management skills and competent planning skills.

He also stressed that the growing shortage of qualified people "will affect job rotation and the ability to increase salaries to retain talented people".

Currently, for example, LKS Next is working with an internationalised Basque company that employs people with Spanish and South American nationality.

In this regard, the head of People Consulting at LKS Next noted, and I quote: "people from Argentina, Colombia or Venezuela find the prospect of earning a salary comparable to that of Europeans very attractive, and see it as an extraordinary opportunity".

How much does a highly qualified professional earn in Spain?

For example, the occupations in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (ACBC) that experienced the highest wage growth in 2023, according to the 6th Salary Guide published by the LKS Next group, are related to engineering, information technologies and higher studies in mechatronics, which involves systems integration, electronics, mechanics, control, robotics and computer science.

The guide highlights that salaries in the BAC increased significantly above the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in 2023, effectively offsetting the decline in purchasing power experienced in previous years.

In addition, it provides a comprehensive list of typical gross fixed salaries. These salaries range from 267,289 euros, which includes variable pay of up to 23% for professions such as general management, to 25,432 euros for administrative assistants.

Within the sample, there are positions such as cloud engineer (earning 49,003 euros gross per year), product technician (earning 46,584 euros), computer systems analyst (earning 48,177 euros), doctor (earning 52,337 euros), research associate (earning 38,322 euros) and 3rd manufacturing officer (earning 26,199 euros). These positions fall between the two extreme categories.

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