New all-time high of Catalans living abroad

Unprecedented drop in numbers residing in South America as western Pyrenees sees greatest percentage of emigrants

World map with the countries with more than 500 Catalans living in highlighted (by Guifré Jordan)
World map with the countries with more than 500 Catalans living in highlighted (by Guifré Jordan) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

April 26, 2021 01:54 PM

The number of Catalans residing abroad reached an all-time high in 2020 according to data recently published by Catalonia's Statistics Institute (Idescat).

On January 1, 2021, there were 340,514 Catalans registered at Spanish consulates abroad, 2.82% more than 12 months prior. Although this means there are more Catalans abroad than ever before, this yearly increase is the lowest since records began in 2009.

10-to-14-year-olds make up the largest age group abroad (28,143 people), followed by those between the ages of 45 and 49 (27,062), those between 40 and 44 (26,845) and the 15 to 19 age range (25,026).

Spanish Civil War emigration 80 years on

The EU is the main destination for Catalans abroad (109,632), followed by South America (93,452), where the effect of the post-Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) exodus is indisputable, particularly amongst the descendants of those who escaped Francoism.

Those considered to be Catalans abroad are both Spanish nationals whose last place of residence before emigrating was Catalonia, as well as Spanish nationals born abroad who are descendants of Catalan emigrants.

The following map – where only countries with over 500 Catalans appear – corroborates this trend:



Yet, this year is the first since records began that the number of Catalans in South America has decreased (-0.4%).Those living in the EU have also declined, but only due to the fact that the 26,759 individuals in the UK are, as of New Year's Day 2021, no longer living in the Union, but rather fall under the 'rest of Europe' category, which has skyrocketed.

Indeed, European countries outside the EU are now the third main destination of emigrants (62,283), followed by Central America (31,902), North America (25,766), Asia (8,693), Africa (5,229), and Oceania (3,557).

If we zoom into the country level, France is, yet again, home to the largest number of Catalans abroad: 48,057. This is due to proximity, but also the scars of the Civil War. Indeed, 16,141 of them were born in France.

Argentina – the second most popular location – is an even more obvious example of the emigration of the late 1930s and early 1940s. 25,403 of Argentina's 31,542 Catalans were born in the South American country.

Germany (28,140), the UK (26,759), and the US (22,880) follow in the ranking, with a much lower share of Catalans born in these countries.

Mexico is the sixth most popular place for Catalans for the same reasons as Argentina and most Central and South American countries: 14,150 of the country's 18,196 Catalans were born there.

Indeed, at least 110,000 of the 125,354 Catalans living in Central and South America were born in the country they currently reside in.

Western Pyrenees, region with most percentage of migrants

All in all, around 4.4% of Catalans do not live in Spain, but this percentage varies depending on where in Catalonia they are registered, that is to say, where they last lived or where their ancestors were from.

For instance, 155,488 of the emigrants are registered in Barcelona – accounting for 9.3% of the capital's 1.6 million inhabitants.

The western Pyrenees is, by far, the region with the greatest percentage of people residing in other countries, as this map shows:



Yet, in the majority of Catalonia's 947 towns, emigrants do not exceed 2% of the total population.

The municipalities in the Pyrenees bordering the French state have a larger share of emigrated inhabitants.

In 33 of the 42 Catalan counties, the main destination for emigrants is France, although in six others, including Barcelonès – home to the capital –, Argentina tops the ranking.

Andorra is the main destination for those living in neighboring Alt Urgell county as well as those in nearby Pallars Sobirà, while Germany is the preferred place for migrants from Osona.

New emigrants

There are also figures for those who moved in 2020, the year Covid-19 broke out: 19,173, around 32% fewer than in 2019, which saw 28,096 people leave Catalonia.

The EU (6,912), the rest of Europe (4,539), and South America (3,076) were the main destinations, with the latter experiencing the biggest decrease compared to the previous 12 months. Difficulties especially in terms of overseas travel due to the pandemic may explain this lower than usual number.