Migrants harvest oranges in the fields of Rosarno in Calabria | Photo:  ANSA/FRANCO CUFARI
Migrants harvest oranges in the fields of Rosarno in Calabria | Photo: ANSA/FRANCO CUFARI

A study by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre shows the number of migrants in the EU working in agriculture increased from 2011 to 2017, with a particularly significant upward trend in Denmark, Spain, and Italy.

The number of migrants working in agriculture in the European Union increased by almost two percent from 2011 to 2017.

The percentage rose from 4.3 percent of the people employed in the sector in 2011 to 6.5 percent in 2017. That's according to a report by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) that included detailed studies on Spain and Italy. 

The upward trend is particularly strong in countries such as Denmark, Spain, and Italy, where agriculture absorbs nearly 8 percent more foreign workers than other EU countries. 

In Italy, the number of foreign workers in agriculture grew from 15 to 20 percent of the total number of migrants, in particular in areas where the demand is high for seasonal workers for fruit and vegetable production. 

Data on Italy 

Compared to other countries such as Spain and Denmark, which are characterized by the same demographic dynamic, the origin of migrant farm workers in Italy is more diversified. About 8 percent of people working in agriculture come from another EU member state, four percent from non-EU countries, four percent from Asia and three percent from North Africa. 

Local data from Italy and Spain show also that, despite the fact that migration is expanding in areas where the native population is decreasing, it doesn't necessarily compensate for the general population decline in those areas. 

Migrants in rural areas present challenges 

European countries with the highest presence of migrant populations in rural areas in relative terms are Luxembourg (40 percent), Cyprus (15.1 percent), Sweden (14.9 percent), Ireland (11.9 percent), Germany (9.6 percent), and Italy (about 9 percent). 

In the EU, migrants represent 14.5 percent of the total population living in large metropolitan areas, 10.2 percent of those living in cities and 5.5 percent of those living in rural areas. However, in Italy the geographic distribution is more homogeneous, with a high number of migrants living in rural areas and a small difference in the percentages between rural areas and cities. 

The study's authors said the presence of migrants in rural areas presents the migrants and local residents with challenges such as distance, isolation, and limited access to services, as well as opportunities such as fighting depopulation and providing workforce. 

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