The migrant worker myth

If
the UK national media is right, we will be inundated by a flood of migrant
workers when 10 new countries join the European Union on 1 May. But far from
needing more legislation to protect our shores, as DeeDee Doke reports, never,
in the field of human migration, has so much drivel been written about so few

The
number of East European migrants heading to the UK next month has been
overestimated and the majority will only remain in the country on a short-term
basis, academics have claimed.

Economic
and employment experts say that UK industries such as hospitality, IT and
medical services may find more willing applicants to fill existing vacancies
when 10 more countries officially join the European Union in May – but that
many migrants are likely to stay for only a few years before taking their
skills and work experience back to their home countries.

Ten
new member states from Eastern Europe will join the EU on 1 May enabling people
from countries such as Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to work in the
UK.

Robin
Chater, secretary-general of the Federation of European Employers (FedEE),
compares the situation facing the accession countries to Ireland’s during the
1970s and 1980s when the country produced a surplus of graduates, who then left
to work in Germany, The Netherlands and the US.

“Ireland
was producing many more graduates than the Irish economy could accept. When the
Irish economy lifted, they came back, and have stimulated it so considerably
that Ireland is now the tiger economy of Europe,” Chater says.

Similarly,
Chater predicts that the “centre of (economic) gravity” will move east in the
future, in part because Eastern European immigrants will take their work
experience and new skills back home after a few years of working elsewhere in
the EU.    

Research
backs up Chater’s views. A study published last week by the Estonian Employers’
Confederation reported that just 8 per cent of Estonian workers aged 15 to 64
said they wanted permanent work abroad, compared to 75 per cent who said they
wanted to work abroad temporarily or from time to time. The Estonians’
preferred destination was Finland, followed by Germany and then the UK. The
report by the Praxis Centre for Policy Studies and the University of Tartu said
the desire to work abroad had actually dropped since 2000.

The
largest numbers of immigrants seeking jobs in the UK will probably be from
Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, suggests Roger Vickerman, professor of
European economics at the University of Kent and a co-author of the report
Immigration, Labour Mobility and EU Enlargement.

Vickerman
expects the numbers of immigrants generally to be “not large — in the small
tens of thousands”.  Further, he
anticipates that those seeking jobs will know what they are looking for.

“They’re
not stupid – they will tend to go where there are jobs, where there’s growth in
employment, and jobs for which they’re suited,” he says.

Two
major UK employers’ groups that could benefit from a larger pool of potential
employees are taking a practical view of the upcoming changes. The
manufacturing organisation EEF says its members already recruit from the
accession countries. The British Hospitality Association expects its members to
welcome workers who could fill an estimated 150,000-plus vacancies
industry-wide “provided that they are skilled or willing to be trained and are
reasonably fluent in the language”, says BHA spokesman Miles Quest.

For
HR managers, the main lesson is simple: ensure that new employees from the
accession countries have documentation to prove they have registered with the
Home Office to work in the UK.

Janette
Protheroe, a solicitor with London law firm Landwell says: “The onus is going
to be on the individual to register with the Home Office, and the employer
needs to ensure that the individual has indeed registered.”

FedEE’s
Chater adds that UK employers should be aware that workers from the accession
countries will not be able to claim UK benefits for at least two years – a
factor that should be taken into account if a company later finds it must make
redundancies.

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