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Half of migrants from new EU countries have now left UK

About half of the people who moved to Britain from the countries that joined the European Union on 1 May 2004 have already left the UK, according to a major report published today by the ippr.

Numbers of people arriving from countries such as Poland are falling, and greater numbers than before are leaving, says the report – released today to mark the fourth anniversary of the EU enlargement in 2004.

ippr estimates that since 2004 just over 1 million migrant workers have come to Britain from the eight Central and Eastern European countries that joined the EU at that time.

Polish nationals, by far the biggest nationality within this group, are now the single largest foreign national group living in the UK – up from 13th largest in early 2004.

But ippr believes that around half of these migrant workers have returned home already - and that many more will follow suit.

The vast majority of Polish migrants come to the UK for economic reasons, but leave because they miss home or want to be with their friends and family. Seventy per cent of Poles who have returned home had found the UK better or the same as they had expected, yet two-thirds thought they had made the right decision to return home.

ippr estimates that about 665,000 people from post-enlargement countries currently live in Britain. This is a rise of about 550,000 since early 2004.

The employment rate among nationals of the new EU member states is 84 per cent – the highest of all immigrant groups and nine per cent higher than the UK-born average. Very few claim state benefits – only 2.4 per cent of those registering for National Insurance numbers since 2004 did so to claim benefits. They work on average 46 hours per week - four hours longer per week than UK-born workers.

The influx has had a significant impact on some areas of business. In December 2003, about 40,000 passengers flew between British and Polish airports. By December 2007, that number had risen to almost 385,000. Before 2004, Polish beers were not widely available in the UK. Now, some 44 million pints of Poland’s leading brands - Lech and Tyskie – are sold here annually.

In contrast to other groups of people migrating to Britain in the past, many come to the UK on a temporary or seasonal basis, and regularly visit home while living here.

The distribution of post-enlargement migrants around the UK differs significantly from that of other immigrant groups. Workers from the eight countries that joined the EU in 2004 are registered in every local authority in the UK.

ippr believes fewer people from the new EU member states will come to the UK in the coming months and years, and more of those currently here will return home.

A number of factors are behind this:

  • Economic development in the new EU countries – economic conditions in post-enlargement countries are set to improve in relation to the UK;
  • Diversion to other EU member states as they loosen their immigration restrictions;
  • Demographic patterns - falling birth rates in post-enlargement countries in the 1980s means there is a shrinking of the pool of likely migrants in the new EU countries;
  • Devaluation of the Pound Sterling – by about a quarter against the Polish Zloty since early 2004 – will narrow the gap between earnings in Britain and Poland. 

Those migrants that remain in the long term are likely to be the best qualified and most aspirational.

Dr Danny Sriskandarajah, head of migration research at the ippr and report co-author, said:

“Migration from the new EU member states has happened on a staggering scale but seems to have been largely positive for all concerned. Our findings challenge the widely-held assumptions that most of those who have arrived are still here, that more will come and most will stay permanently. It is a question of when, not if the Great East European migration slows. With fewer migrants in and more migrants out, the UK seems to be experiencing turnstiles, not floodgates.

“Our research shows that those who are likely to stay in the UK will move up the career ladder. As they find their feet and improve their English, more Poles will want to pursue their professions than pluck poultry in the future.”

Commenting on Floodgates or Turnstiles, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

'"The report shows once again that migration is not a threat to Britain's workers or society at large, as long as migrant workers are treated the same as the existing workforce and the laws on working conditions are properly enforced. Migrant workers should not be made to work the long hours that this report reveals - which leads to exploitation for them and increases the pressure on other workers to do the same.

'Since the European Union expanded, Eastern Europeans have come here to work, they haven't come here for benefits. Fewer than half of them have stayed, with the numbers coming to the UK set to decline even further.

'Everyone at work should enjoy decent work and good wages, no matter where they come from. Putting a stop to the exploitation of migrants would allow our economy to continue to absorb the extra labour it needs without harming community relations."

Posted by, Asif Yusuf

 

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