Who are the UK's foreign workers?

 
Arrivals board at Heathrow airport

On New Year's Day, construction worker Victor Spiresau was greeted by politicians, reporters and photographers at Luton Airport - the first Romanian immigrant to arrive in Britain after the controversial lifting of employment controls on Romania and Bulgaria.

Victor became the reluctant symbol of what many predicted would be a vast wave of East Europeans flocking to the UK.

MPs and newspapers warned of a "flood" of hundreds of thousands of poor Romanians and Bulgarians who would strain our welfare system and public services. It was an argument that played directly into anxieties about immigration and the influence of the EU.

But today's figures, the first official estimate of workers from Romania and Bulgaria since the transitional employment restrictions were removed on the so-called A2 countries in January, suggest there has been no flood. If anything, the reverse.

There were an estimated 144,000 Romanian and Bulgarian workers in the UK at the end of 2013. Now the respected Labour Force Survey puts the figure at 140,000 at the end of March - 4,000 fewer people from A2 countries estimated to be working here since controls were lifted.

The figure is still 29,000 higher than the number estimated for the same period last year, but that rise occurred while employment restrictions were still in place. The argument that lifting them would lead to huge extra numbers coming here from Romania and Bulgaria is not reflected in official figures.

Start Quote

People will tend to move to places that offer better prospects, and within the European Union that freedom is enshrined in the EU Treaty”

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However, the numbers do demonstrate a long-term rise in workers from the A2 countries coming to the UK. Back in 2001, the Labour Force Survey estimated there were only around 6,000 citizens from those countries employed in Britain.

Numbers grew steadily as the former communist states developed closer relationships with the West, and after they were invited to join the European Union in 2007, 100,000 more Romanian and Bulgarian workers came in just six years, despite "transitional" employment controls.

But today's figures are a reflection of a wider phenomenon. There has been a significant increase in the number of workers from many other EU countries coming to Britain in recent months, notably the A8 countries including Poland, the Czech Republic and Latvia.

The first three months of this year saw a jump of 74,000 in the number of workers from those eight accession countries compared with the last quarter of 2013. Year-on-year, the increase is 115,000 - one of the highest increases seen since Poles first started coming to the UK in large numbers in 2004.

Overall, the number of workers from elsewhere in the EU has risen 168,000 in the past year - mobile labour attracted by the impressive employment situation in the UK.

Here, of course, is the real issue. People will tend to move to places that offer better prospects, and within the European Union that freedom is enshrined in the EU Treaty.

Theresa may Home secretary, Theresa May: UK "committed to freedom of movement."

"Freedom of movement in Europe is one of the central achievements of the European integration process and one of the most important and visible benefits of the European Union for its citizens," the Home Secretary Theresa May stated in a letter last year. "We are fully committed to the common European right to the freedom of movement. We will always welcome Union citizens who move to another EU country to work."

However, the UK is not alone in questioning the impact this freedom can have on welfare and public services, particularly for a country that outperforms other parts of the EU economically. The government is tightening up access to some benefits for EU citizens where permissible, and looking to renegotiate the rules still further.

The letter signed by Mrs May was sent to the President of the European Council for Justice and Home Affairs jointly with representatives from Austria, Germany and the Netherlands.

Among richer and more economically stable countries within the EU, there is a shared concern that positive headlines about financial success are matched by troublesome headlines about immigration.

Today's Labour Force Survey figures show that the UK's employment rate has risen to probably its highest ever level among domestic workers - 72.8%, marginally higher than the figure for non-UK citizens (69.5%).

While the number of foreign-born citizens working here has risen 178,000 in the past year, the number of UK citizens in employment is up 563,000. A remarkable 400,000 fewer people are claiming unemployment benefits in the UK compared with a year ago - a massive 26.4% drop.

It is impressive numbers like these that explain why workers in many other EU countries think Britain might be a good place to look for a job.

 
Mark Easton, Home editor Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 27.

    Let 'em all in.
    The Government is wonderful.
    The BBC are very fair on moderation.

    Is my comment now allowed?

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 26.

    20.
    RYGnotB

    UKIP scare tactics fail miserably.

    ----

    Labour have, on numerous occasions, apologised unreservedly for their failure on immigration. These were not scare tactics!

    Given their current standings in the opinion polls, and being favourites to win at next weeks EU elections, I'd say their campaign on this matter, and many others over the last few years, has been anything but a failure.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 25.

    Growth doesn't benefit us if the population grows faster than the economy. Would you rather share half of £10 or a quarter of £11?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 24.

    Seems to me UKIP peaked too early and have now lost their momentum.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 23.

    Modern day racism

  • rate this
    +26

    Comment number 22.

    I'd love to know how the gov can claim to know how much Net migration is when 4 years on they still haven't implemented exit checks!

    And the irony is that the party that is more anti-eu and anti-immigrants is in charge of our boarders, and they are the ones dragging their heels!

    Which leaves me thinking they are either incompetent, or they are worried about what the numbers may show!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 21.

    Very sensible and good point made about us all being better off in the end. That is what people don't understand. Immigration is currently a reason why this country is growing. More nurses, doctors, teachers, bankers, cleaners, shop assistants, agricultural workers etc. Adopting a French system of welfare benefit or higher minimum wage would prevent any benefits tourism, but probably growth too.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 20.

    UKIP scare tactics fail miserably. The EU needs improvement but UKIPs unhelpful contributions only make things worse.

  • rate this
    +15

    Comment number 19.

    Theresa May stated in a letter last year. "We are fully committed to the common European right to the freedom of movement. We will always welcome Union citizens who move to another EU country to work."

    That's the difficulty isn't it - commitment to freedom of movement is not quite the same as welcoming workers - what about those who don't have work ?

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 18.

    16.AliBenSawali
    with the BBC in tow have let us down for too long and are now openly trying to demonise UKIP.
    ---
    Except on HYS where any criticism of UKIP is swiftly removed at the first bleating from UKIP HQ and their army of forum spammers.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 17.

    i want the best people inthe world to work for me here in England, if they are from overseas no problem. It is the policies that UKIP support that have helped reduce our scienctific and technical capacity. UKIP are anti-science.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 16.

    If the BBC said it was raining I'd look outside to check. The levels of immigration are so high already that % increases or decreases make little difference. The 3 major parties with the BBC in tow have let us down for too long and are now openly trying to demonise UKIP.

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 13.

    "Who are the UK's foreign workers?"

    Nigels German wife who's his secretary?

    but lets all boo the imaginary Romanians and Bulgarians who have apparently over-run us with 3 million immigrants arriving on new years day... oh wait that didn't happen... ah well it was a slogan used to win last years local elections, doesn't really matter now...

    on to the 22 million Europeans apparently coming over

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 12.

    8.David Horton - If a foreign worker is given a job ahead of a Brit, purely because of a lower salary cost, it is WRONG.


    100% agree. But what most will do about it?
    Go to these employers in their town & protest?
    Boycott their goods/services?
    Take to social media to publicly highlight this employment practice?
    OR
    Moan about foreigners?
    I predict it’d be the latter unfortunately.

  • rate this
    -12

    Comment number 11.

    Everybody in the world should have the opportunity to live and work in this wonderful country. We have been honoured with so much in this country, we should share it with all. God bless Britain!

  • rate this
    +29

    Comment number 10.

    A remarkable 400,000 fewer people are claiming unemployment benefits in the UK compared with a year ago - a massive 26.4% drop.

    ++
    Mr Easton, if you exclude the massive rise of in work claiments, especially immigrant claiments, who can claim far more than unemployed benefits just by working 16 hours a week, then you might as well throw this despicably biased article article in the BIN

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 9.

    Are you seriously trying to make the UK believe that 144k of people entering is good!! you may say just as many brits left but they have also taken their money with them, the 144k coming bring zero money and the country has to cope with bursting infrastructure. 5000 NHS staff also taken from EU with 2 million still unemployed. Come on BBC this is shocking at all levels of public broadcasting.

  • rate this
    +21

    Comment number 8.

    Theresa May: UK "committed to freedom of movement."
    --
    In one, the only thing you need to know when wondering who to vote for in the Euros.

    She is a representative of the electorate.
    How does she know what the people think about an open door policy?
    We've never been asked.

    If a foreign worker is given a job ahead of a Brit, purely because of a lower salary cost, it is WRONG.

 

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