Prime Minister Robert Abela has ordered a number of his ministers, particularly the home, housing, and tourism ministers, to introduce measures to curb the rise of the population due to the influx of non-EU workers, better known as Third Country Nationals (TCNs).
The Shift is informed that several initiatives are already in the pipeline, including the imposing of a limit on how many people are to live together in apartments and rented properties, the introduction of a skills card for the thousands of TCNs working in the tourism industry, and new regulations for temping agencies.
The sources said these measures follow surveys showing problems related to overpopulation, such as infrastructure failures and congestion, are denting the prime minister’s popularity in the polls as MEP elections loom. Abela hopes for a good result in the European Parliament vote scheduled for next June to reinforce his position at the helm of the Labour Party as he faces mounting internal discontent.
During the past weeks, both Abela and several ministers have started to talk about the need for a shift in Malta’s economic model after years of policies encouraging the importation of cheap labour to grow the economy.
The architect of the overpopulation policy, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, sounded the alarm, stating that Malta would need a population of 800,000 in a few years to keep its current economic growth, with Abela starting to talk about correcting the situation.
Between 2011 and 2022, Malta’s official population grew by 150,000, reaching 550,000 last year, in addition to the tens of thousands thought to be staying and working illegally.
Curbing measures in the pipeline
Several measures have been laid out to restrict and discourage third-country nationals from coming to Malta.
The first is introducing a skills card, increasing application costs for TCNs by some €575, and increasing the financial entry barrier.
They will have to obtain a pass in a skills course before they are given a work permit, with more government oversight in the process. Only the government-controlled ITS has been given the green light to conduct this new course and issue certificates.
The tourism industry is fuelled by TCNs and has almost become dependent on these workers, most of whom receive the minimum wage.
At the same time, after years of lawlessness, abuses, and exploitation, with tens of unregulated agencies mushrooming and charging thousands in illegal entry fees, the boss of Identity Malta – now called Identita’ – Mark Mallia has started giving interviews on the abuses that his agency is dealing with to issue work permits and visas.
Mallia warned that this would not be permitted to continue despite the government spending years with both eyes closed, issuing tens of thousands of permits per year to abusive agents without any checks and balances.
Earlier this week, another signal on an attempt towards a shift of policy was sent by Housing Minister Roderick Galdes.
He announced that amendments to the current rent laws will be presented to parliament, including the capping of how many people can live together in rented apartments.
If introduced and enforced effectively, these new rules will have a knock-on effect on the culture of lawlessness allowed to flourish in this sector for many years, impacting the construction and real estate industry in particular.
Due to the influx of tens of thousands of workers over the last decade, many took the opportunity to ‘invest’ in small flats on a buy-to-rent basis.
Hundreds of newly built apartments and other properties were turned into dormitories for poorly paid workers, charging between €250 and €400 each per month for a bed.
While landlords have been milking the situation for years, earning twice or three times the average rental rates, the government has looked the other way, refusing to intervene and regulate the market.
Last summer, after The Shift exposed how an apartment in Sliema’s George Borg Olivier Street was turned into a dormitory for some 40 Nepalese and Indian workers, the Housing Authority said there were no laws on the number of tenants a landlord could host in his property.
Experts told The Shift this was false since other laws, including sanitary and tourism-related rules, already exist.
Real Estate sources warned that while these measures are just “a consequence of panic after years of total mismanagement and a free-for-all all”, the lack of a national long-term plan might severely affect the economy.