There are almost 43,000 foreign workers in Malta and the Cabinet has approved plans to bring thousands more from non-EU countries as it seeks to pre-empt a labour shortage problem.
Figures given in Parliament on Tuesday show that there are currently 12,407 non-EU workers in Malta, along with 30,564 from the EU.
The most strongly represented countries are Italy, with 7,748 workers in Malta, followed by 4,819 Britons and 2,439 Bulgarians.
Topping the list on non-EU nationals in Malta are 2,413 Filipinos and 2,329 Serbs.
Times of Malta reported on Wednesday morning that bilateral agreements have been drafted by the Maltese governments with non-EU countries such as Serbia and Montenegro for more workers to be brought to Malta.
Clyde Caruana, an economist who heads the State employment agency, JobsPlus, said the potential of the Maltese labour force has been “maximised”.
Figures issued on Wednesday morning showed unemployment at a record low of under 1,800.
Over the past few years the island attracted thousands of foreigners. However, they do not stay here for long, and attracting them again in even larger numbers is a top priority now.- JobsPlus head
“Over the past few years the island has already attracted thousands of foreigners. However, they do not stay here for long, and attracting them again in even larger numbers is a top priority now,” he said.
According to national employment statistics, the vast majority of foreign workers who have arrived in recent years left the country rather quickly.
In fact, less than one-tenth of the thousands who had arrived by 2010 remain on the island today. Mr Caruana said that the government would follow European Union-wide protocols when attracting workers to the country.
“We will prioritise local workers. If we can’t find enough Maltese nationals to fill vacancies, we will look across the EU, as is the norm,” he said.
Mr Caruana said that JobsPlus would be overseeing and managing the country’s worker requirements.
A specialised unit was being set up that would liaise with employers to identify vacancies and then issue calls within Malta, the EU and, eventually, in the agency’s third-country counterparts.
Over the past four years, the country’s average economic growth was measured at around 6.4 per cent – far outstripping the EU average.
Last year, Malta registered a net increase of 10,500 jobs over the previous year, a trend that persists today.
Although questions regarding what type of workers were needed remained unanswered, government sources said construction labourers were among the main shortfalls envisaged. Transport workers, IT professionals and even cleaners were also on the priority list.
The prospect of keeping Malta’s economic motor running with more foreign workers has not been without controversy. Commentators have questioned whether the country had the necessary space and infrastructure to make good for the economic growth.
Just last month, Malta Employers Association director general Joe Farrugia warned that the current number of foreign workers – around 43,000 – had already outstripped the size of the entire public sector.
And Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia has gone as far as to say Malta faced “sociocultural ruin” if the influx of foreign workers was not carefully managed as part of a long-term economic plan.