Disagreement continues over immigration’s impact on UK unemployment

There have been further developments today in the debate over the impact of immigration on levels of unemployment in the UK.

Research published today by the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) points to an association between non-EU migrants’ entry to the UK and job losses among workers.

A passage from the MAC report said: “100 additional non-EU migrants may cautiously be estimated to be associated with a reduction in employment of 23 native workers.” Based on these figures, the report goes on to claim that up to 160,000 native workers might have been “displaced” from employment since 2005 as a result of non-EU migration.

The suggestion that for every 100 non-EU migrant workers who enter the UK, 23 native workers find themselves unemployed is a contentious one and resulted in comment from Gillian Econopouly, head of public policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), who said: “We can look at this or that study, but the reality is that we have an open and globalised labour market, and the way the immigration system is designed is that people from outside the EU are limited to ways in which they can enter.

“If the immigration system is working properly, people can only enter if they have an open job offer, or if there is proof that there is a shortage of local or resident workers to fill a post, or people can enter because we know there is an identified skills shortage in an area.

“If this system is working properly, we should reduce the issue of people being displaced from the labour market.

“But, whatever our immigration rules, it is fundamentally about making sure that resident workers have the skills and attitude to compete in the labour market – this is what we hear from a lot of our members.

“Fundamentally, we need to make sure that our workforce is skilled up and has the attitude to compete and to get those jobs whatever the regulatory environment,” Econopouly concluded.

Today’s events follow disagreement yesterday over the suggestion that rising unemployment has been exacerbated by the rising number of migrant workers who have entered the UK.

Those original claims were made by the immigration “watchdog” MigrationWatchUK, which attempted to highlight what it called the “remarkable coincidence” relating to an increase in immigration from Eastern Europe during the past eight years and a rise in youth unemployment.

The organisation said: “Between the first quarter of 2004 and the third quarter of 2011, employment of workers born in the so called A8 countries increased by more than 600,000. Over the same period, the number of unemployed young people in the UK almost doubled, from 575,000 to just over one million.”

However, these claims were disputed by the REC, which said: “Youth unemployment remains a critical issue in the UK and requires targeted action by government, employers and education, as the REC’s own Youth Employment Taskforce has long campaigned for. However, it is wrong to suggest that there is a clear correlation between youth unemployment and a rise in Eastern European workers. We need genuine, informed debate on immigration and labour mobility but must avoid easy assumptions on the causality between migration and youth unemployment.

“Despite the high number of job seekers, the feedback from recruitment professionals confirms that finding suitable candidates for certain roles remains a challenge. What we are facing is fundamentally a skills and employability issue. The focus must be on giving the next generation of UK workers the right careers guidance and support to make informed decisions and progress within the jobs market.”

These comments were supported today by a response from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), which said that recent research had found no relationship between the number of migrant workers entering the UK and levels of unemployment.

The NIESR said: “Existing research on the labour market impact of immigration to the UK has generally found little or no impact on average, with at most a generally modest impact on the less skilled. This paper adds to that evidence by using a more comprehensive and reliable data source, and updates the analysis to include the recent recession.

“Our results seem to confirm the lack of any impact of migration on unemployment on aggregate. We find no association between migrant inflows and claimant unemployment. In addition, we test for whether the impact of migration on claimant unemployment varies according to the state of the economic cycle. We find no evidence of a greater negative impact during periods of low growth or the recent recession.”

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