The government has embarked on a series of measures to try to limit the number of non-EU nationals living in Malta, top government ministers have said.
“We acknowledge that many non-EU workers are contributing productively to the economy. But ultimately, yes, there is a concerted effort to limit the population growth,” Home Affairs minister Byron Camilleri confirmed.
Malta saw a population boom after the Labour Party took over the government 10 years ago. In 2011, Malta’s population stood at 417,000. By 2022 that figure ballooned to 542,000.
Finance Minister Clyde Caruana has warned that if Malta wants to maintain an average economic growth rate of 4.2 per cent, the population would have to increase to 800,000 by 2040, unless a new economic model was developed.
But the explosion of migration, especially from third (non-EU) countries, has resulted in worker exploitation, and pressure on the country’s infrastructure, including housing and traffic, amid vocal concerns from many Maltese citizens.
A third of foreigners in Malta are EU citizens.
A further seven per cent are from other European countries that are not EU member states.
Italians are the most prevalent foreign nationality at 12 per cent, followed by British residents at just over nine per cent.
Other common nationalities include Indian and Filipino, both at just under seven per cent.
Malta also has a sizeable Serbian community.
'Government on a drive to stamp out abuse'
The home affairs minister said the government is mainly on a drive to stamp out abuse and increase enforcement against lawbreakers, “be it third-country nationals, landlords or employers”.
A total of eight cabinet ministers and senior government officials described a general policy shift to limit or reduce the number of non-EU nationals, even if ministers have not been explicitly briefed in cabinet.
Asked when this policy shift began, one minister pointed at Caruana’s forecast.
“I think the government felt that something needed to be done after that,” he said.
Recent surveys by Malta Today and Times of Malta have also accelerated the process for the economic shift, another minister said.
“Overpopulation often comes up in cabinet, and the natural solution is to look at our immigration policies,” one cabinet minister said.
Number of non-EU nationals 'often discussed'
He said the number of non-EU nationals in Malta is often discussed among ministers and members of the PL’s parliamentary group.
Another minister said that “in 2013, the emphasis was on growing the economy, which meant bringing in as many non-EU nationals as possible”.
But the focus has now shifted towards investing in industries that do not require many workers, he said.
“The prime minister is tacitly saying that himself when he talks of focusing on the quality of life and investing in value-added industries,” the minister said.
“The direction has definitely changed to allow for fewer non-EU nationals,” the minister said.
That does not necessarily mean throwing people out, he said. Instead, it means not replacing third-country nationals who leave the country.
'Most people coming to Malta are low-skilled workers'
Another minister said the government wants to focus on bringing in skilled immigrants.
“Most people coming to Malta are low-skilled workers,” he said.
A change in the way Jobsplus conducts its labour market tests is one way the government is tackling the issue.
Most non-EU nationals need a work permit provided by Identity Malta to work in Malta. Before Identity Malta grants the permit, Jobsplus must conduct a labour market means test.
“Before, Jobsplus would only look at whether all the paperwork was in order, but that has now changed, and they are asking if certain jobs are actually needed for the country’s economy,” a senior government official said.
“Do we really need more cab drivers,” he asked, by way of example.
New laws regulating cab drivers are also heavily impacting non-EU nationals. The regulations published last month mean drivers must have a Maltese or EU licence to drive Y-plated cabs that operate on ride-hailing platforms like Bolt, Uber and eCabs.
The new laws were published without a grace period, leaving thousands of non-EU nationals who were in the process of becoming cab drivers out of pocket and with an uncertain future.
Do we really need more cab drivers?- Minister
Many were still in their home countries and had just applied for their visa, but others were already in Malta and in the final stages of the work permit process.
The new cab driver regulations will lead to a decrease in third-country nationals in Malta, Home Affairs Minister Camilleri said. A number of cab drivers have recently been stopped by enforcement officers to check whether they had the right documentation.
Immigration police and the Housing Authority have recently joined forces to “tackle overcrowding in rental properties”.
Police are also “using the opportunity” to conduct immigration checks, a home affairs spokesperson added.
One government source acknowledged many are being priced out of the rental market because landlords can make more money if they rent their property to many non-EU nationals who are prepared to accept overcrowded conditions.
“A couple or a small family might be willing to pay €800 a month for a two-bedroom flat, but eight people might pay €200 each for the same property,” the source said.