Around half of the eastern European immigrants who arrived in Britain since they joined the European Union in 2004 have already left the UK, according to a major new report by the Institute for Public Policy Research.
The report – released today to mark the fourth anniversary of the EU enlargement in 2004, reveals that the number of people arriving from countries such as Poland are falling, and greater numbers than before are leaving,
The ippr study 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.
The findings fit in with an earlier study by Centre for International Relations, a Warsaw-based think-tank, which predicted that up to half of the British-based Poles are expected to return home.
Poles are 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 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.
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.
In contrast to other groups of people migrating to Britain in the past, for instance from Asia or Africa, many come to the UK on a temporary or seasonal basis.
The group examined data from the Labour Force Survey and national insurance number applications as well as the Worker Registration Scheme – on which applicants are required to register as soon as they start working in Britain. It also studied the International Passenger Survey and questioned Poles who had returned home.
The Government originally predicted that between 5,000 and 13,000 migrants would arrive.
According to the latest study, there were 665,000 people from the 10 countries living in Britain in the last quarter of last year – an increase of 548,000 since the first quarter of 2004.
The research team predicted that rapid economic development in the EU states would mean fewer people coming to Britain over the next few years.
The pound’s devaluation in relation to the Polish currency will narrow the gap between potential earnings in Britain and Poland, while the pool of possible migrants is set to shrink due to lower birth rates in the Eighties.
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.”
This research confirms what care industry employers have known for some time. Eastern Europeans are not the answer to staff shortages in the sector.
The Government’s policy of squeezing out workers from Asia and Africa in favour of EU migrants could back-fire, causing major staffing problems for the care industry, as well other sectors which rely on overseas workers.