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The number of foreign workers in Malta has reached an all-time high of 70,000, according to data by Jobsplus, the national employment agency, and shared with

Last year, it was reported that the number of foreigners working in Malta had stalled for the first time since 2009, with the number at the end of 2020 being the same as that in 2019, around 67,500.

Despite the pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy, however, the number of foreign workers by the end of 2021 actually increased to 70,000, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

So, why are so many companies struggling to recruit and find staff?

The answer lies in the black economy, various industry sources have told this newsroom. The number of unregistered foreign workers on the island was much higher pre-COVID, and when so many businesses faced restrictions throughout the pandemic, unregistered workers returned home as they were not eligible for COVID support. This resulted in a massive worker shortage. Now that restrictions are being lifted and normalcy is returning, the number of unregistered and undocumented foreign workers is a far cry from 2019.

Number of foreign workers in Malta according to Jobsplus data

In addition, businesses are preferring to register all staff on their books, after missing out on Government COVID support measures such as the wage supplement which was disbursed to employers based on the number of employees, among other factors.

Today, despite the number of foreign workers actually being higher than at any point in Malta’s history, and with the country’s entire population being larger at any point in its history too – 516,000 by end 2021, businesses are still suffering from a worker shortage, shedding some perspective on the extent to which unregistered foreign workers propped up the economy.

Anecdotally, conversations with business owners across various services sectors, from hospitality, catering, beauty and hairdressing, and even financial and professional services, reveal widespread complaints of the difficulty in finding the right staff to complement the growth being experienced now that COVID restrictions have largely been lifted.

Indeed, by the end of 2021, the National Statistics Office revealed that the number of people in employment in Malta was five per cent higher than at the end of 2020, reaching 274,110. For every 100 persons aged between 15 and 64 years, 77 were employed by the end of 2021.

Higher numbers of people in employment tallies with complaints that there are not enough workers on the island.

Now, with war having broken out in Ukraine, worsening supply chain issues for essentials such as wheat, barley, a key ingredient used in plant fertilisers and more, and rapid inflation, uncertainty has dampened the boost provided by COVID restrictions being lifted and is set to cause even more challenges to post-pandemic economic recovery.

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