The role of foreign workers in the Catalan society

By Patricia Rivero


El papel de las trabajadoras extranjeras en la sociedad catalana

In recent years it has become impossible to speak of the phenomenon of immigration without talking about “them”: the women migrants. Women transnational converted in the forefront of social change; without a doubt, made invisible in the society in many aspects. At times, silenced; however, being a genuine promoter of large processes of transformation in the Catalan society, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Well because their arrivals have contributed to the migration flows that have been feminized more and more, or well, because their presence in Catalonia has been clearly claimed, almost “shouting”. In any case, it is observed that these are the elements that have redefined the landscape in relation to the system of production and social reproduction.

We understand that the migration of female is due to multiplicity of factors and which appear as a consequence of the existence of a series of inequalities in the economic variables between recipient countries and issuers. As factors of expulsion may be noted the scarce job opportunities, the devastating impacts of structural adjustment plans, or the increase of single-parent households whose figure of the anchor is a woman. It is important to note also that the motivations do not only revolve around family issues, but also there are projects of promotion of the individual (Parella, 2010) [1]. But let us not stop here, better fast-forward a little more and explicitemos what are the factors of attraction and what the constraints of the receiving areas of migrant workers: Who the demand? Who needs them? Why do we say that the flows have been feminized increasingly?

According to data from the municipal register of inhabitants of the INE [2], shows the progressive increase of foreign women in the last decade, especially in Latin america. Thus, in the year 2001, there was in Catalonia a few 117.051 foreign women arriving in the year 2005 to the amount of 356.424. We can see how it follows this line up with 549.647 women foreign January 1, 2011 in Catalonia.

Various investigations [3] agree that it is critical to understand that the phenomenon of the internationalisation of the work of care is a necessary starting point to addressing the current processes of feminization of international migration, and the way in which the processes of globalization have an influence on gender inequalities in contexts of crisis of social reproduction as on their migratory strategies.

The massive demand for female labor in low-cost coming from the poor countries to meet the needs of care in rich countries is now the main cause of the feminization of migration flows in Catalonia and Spain. Migration, therefore, is related to the gender, as it impacts differently on men and women migrants in their process of displacement; it is related to ethnicity, as are some women with a nationality and origin, certain that “serve” the needs of other women in rich countries; and, finally, is related to social class, as are migrant women from working-class the that will work of care to the families of native.

In this way, and in this sense, the most significant features of female migration reside in as it is based on the permanent reproduction and exploitation of gender inequalities, ethnicity and class in the context of the global economy. The majority of working women migrants perform “women’s jobs” such as nannies, domestic workers, caregivers of people thing or sex workers. Are the industrial niches less desirable in terms of remuneration, working conditions, legal protection and social recognition. Do not forget that in large measure these occupations are carried out both in the formal labor market and informal. In the case of the migrant workers we find a high percentage of jobs (in care) in the underground economy.

In Catalonia but also in the rest of Spain, or in Italy and Portugal, produces the same phenomenon: a high labour demand of care from the informal economy. It is important to note that this underwater area existing prior to the arrival of migrant women. In effect, the informal economy is a cause of the arrival of new migrants, but the arrival of these is not a cause of the underground economy. While the Spanish State does not act on the informal sector, they will not reach migrant workers, and above all irregular, since it is the informal job market the space per excellence in which you can recruit.

That said, and going back to the question posed at the beginning, it is pertinent to raise the following question: why do we affirm that women transnational, are the protagonists of social change in Catalonia?

Because in these last few years, as we have already mentioned, there has been a dramatic demand for personal care, which is associated with demographic changes (high aging population and low birth rate) and the increasing participation of Spanish women in the labour market and their need to balance work and family. Given this situation has occurred in parallel a private market for personal services (domestic service, care of children, elderly and dependent persons), above all in the informal sector.

Moreno Fuentes (2011) [4] points out that in the almost non-existent public intervention of the Spanish State in the area of reproduction, women workers, indigenous have resorted increasingly to the recruitment of immigrant labour to meet the domestic tasks and the care. It is of the utmost importance to stop here and watch this trend that has done no more than produce significant changes in the care model. Such changes could not have taken place without the contribution of migrant women. They are the ones who have come to play an essential role, not only in the labour force participation of women in national and in their homes, but as an element of support and guarantee the sustainability of the welfare regime in Spain.


Patricia Rivero (is a sociologist specializing in immigration issues)

December 2, 2011
Also published in the diario LibreRed



[1] Parella, S. (2010): “Gifts migrades to Catalunya: eines conceptuals per tal d interpret els seus patrons of segregació laboral i les seves trajectòries”, in Freixanet Matthew (coord.): “Gifts migradestreballadores. Anàlisi i experiències locals against the desigualtat”, Barcelona: ICPS.

[2] National Institute of Statistics:

[3] you can refer to a recent Foundation report “Diaspora Solidaria” by Sara Accounts Ramírez, and Patricia Vera: “Migration, gender and development: Women as transnational actors of social change”. Barcelona: Intercanvi i solidaritat Catalunya.

[4] Moreno Fuentes, F. J. (2011): “Immigration and the Welfare State in Spain”, Barcelona: Fundación “La Caixa”.

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