Largest Ethnic Minorities In Spain

People walk the street of Barcelona, Spain. Editorial credit: Valeri Potapova /
People walk the street of Barcelona, Spain. Editorial credit: Valeri Potapova /

Spain is a European country with a population of 46.4 million. Approximately 89.9% of the population is of Spanish ethnicity, and 10.1% are of a foreign ethnicity. Many of these ethnic minorities have recently come to Spain during a period of increased immigration. Others have been in the country for several generations. This article takes a look at some of the largest ethnic minorities in Spain.


Two groups are tied as the largest ethnic minority groups in Spain, those being Romanians and Moroccans. They each make up 1.7% of the population. Most Romanians came to Spain from Romania, an eastern European country, in search of economic opportunity. By 2010, the population had reached 900,000. In 2011, the prime minister extended a ban on the free movement of the Romanian people in order to prevent them from coming to Spain for work. The ban did not apply to documented Romanian immigrants. This political move was in response to an already high unemployment rate in the country. By 2012 and with the economic crisis in full effect, many Romanians fled the country. Today, the population estimate is at 730,340.


Spain once had an open-door immigration policy with Morocco. A such, Moroccan citizens did not require a visa to enter the country. Many Moroccans came for seasonal work, particularly in agriculture and industry. That relationship changed, however, in 1985 when Spain implemented a new visa law. The new law was strict and did not offer a plan for permanent residence. The population of documented Moroccans was 752,695 in 2008. Greatly concerned over their stagnating economy, in September of the same year the Spanish government offered financial compensation to unemployed immigrants if they would cancel their residency and leave the country. The policy was unsuccessful and rather than decrease, the Moroccan population had actually increased 8.8% by 2011.


People of Ecuadorian ethnicity make up 0.7% of the Spanish population. After the Latin American Debt Crisis of the 1980’s, and another financial crisis in Ecuador during the 1990’s, mass numbers of Ecuadorians sought economic refuge in Spain. In 1998, the country had less than 10,000 immigrants from Ecuador. This number increased to 200,000 by 2002 and 500,000 by 2005. Desperate for opportunity, many of the immigrants arrived on tourist visas which they overstayed, looking for work. With such a large number of undocumented immigrants, Spain decided to offer them amnesty. In 2004 and 2005, approximately 140,000 Ecuadorians documented their presence.

White British

In 2006, estimates suggested that 5.5 million British nationals were living overseas. Approximately 751,000 of them are living in Spain, making up 0.7% of the population there. British migration to Spain increased substantially after 1990. The recent vote for Britain to leave the European Union, known in popular culture as the Brexit, left some British immigrants worried for their futures in Spain. Those fears have been calmed by the Vienna Convention of 1969 which protects them with a “grandfathered in” status, meaning they would not lose their previous residency rights.

Other ethnic minorities living in Spain include Colombians, comprising 0.5% of the Spanish population, followed by Bolivians (0.4%), Italians (0.4%), and Chinese (0.4%).

Largest Ethnic Minorities In Spain

RankMinority Ethnic Groups in SpainShare of Total Population in Spain
4White British0.7%

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