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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  September 2008  /  Migrants going home?

Migrants going home?

Professor John Salt has been reviewing recent trends in UK labour immigration

Migrants going home?

The last two decades have seen the emergence of a global migration market in which the UK has been an active participant. The resulting patterns of immigration have been very selective, with different skill level mobility streams sectorally and geographically interlinked. The biggest single development in recent years has been the inflow of Eastern European citizens since May 2004, on a scale that was not foreseen and which, in any case, was largely unplanned. The long-term consequences of this flow are unknown.

Most A8 incomers have taken up less skilled employment, in such sectors as process operatives and the 'pickers, packers and pluckers' of the agriculture and food processing sector, although this does not mean that the workers themselves are low-skilled. What is certain is that they are changing the geography of foreign labour immigration within the UK.

It is not easy to identify all of the specific skills brought to the UK by immigrant workers. The complementarity between the Worker Registration Scheme for those from the eight new member states of the EU after May 2004 and the issue of work permits is especially notable. The work permit system has served to bring in a relatively narrow range of skills, mainly managerial, professional and associate professional. The IT and medical sectors have been the main beneficiaries, although as far as the latter is concerned this now seems to be changing. Other routes of entry have brought in people to do lower skilled jobs. What is particularly notable about the Eastern European immigration is that it revealed a demand for manual and clerical workers the scale of which was unsuspected.

The most recent data suggest that the number of new entrants from Eastern Europe is falling and questions are being raised about the long term future of the flow. Unfortunately, because of a lack of emigration statistics in the UK and of re-immigration statistics in Poland and other sending countries, we do not yet know if overall stocks will stabilise, fall or even grow.


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