The British immigration dilemma

Stop unrestricted immigration from poor EU countries, David Cameron suggests”; On immigration patrol with British police in Romania“; We will block benefits to new EU migrants, says Cameron”.

These have been the headlines covering the UK’s leading newspapers over recent months, ahead of 1 January, 2014.
This date, which seems to haunt many Britons (and Mr Cameron in particular), marks the lifting of the temporary labour restrictions on citizens of Bulgaria and Romania.

Preparing for “doomsday”, last month Mr Cameron unveiled plans to limit the access of EU immigrants to welfare in Britain with the bigger aim of eventually restricting migrants from poorer EU states from ever moving to Britain.
These statements have provoked the reaction of the EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, who told Mr Cameron that “if Britain wants to stay a part of the single market, free movement applies. You cannot have your cake and eat it, Mr Cameron!”

While the economic crisis stigmatized immigration, making it a dirty word in many EU countries, research shows the opposite. The OECD published in June 2013 a report that shows immigration makes a positive contribution to the public finances of many countries, including the UK.

A more specific example can be seen by the Polish experience in the UK. Polish citizens have been able to live and work in Britain since 2004.
Today Polish nationals make up the second largest foreign-born group living in the UK.

Polish is the most commonly spoken non-native language in England and Wales, and about half a million people in Britain now speak Polish as their first language.  According to the Economist, since 2002 almost 1.2m Poles have been issued National Insurance numbers. In 2012 Polish women gave birth to more babies than any other group apart from native Britons.

But unlike the stories told by the media, not many of these immigrants are consuming British taxpayer’s money.
Not only the number of jobless Poles in Britain was under 20,000 (figures from 2011), but also Poles, who are educated and in many cases overqualified, continue to work in jobs that are less popular with the local citizens.

Once their social and language skills improved, many Polish immigrants started local businesses and ventures that turned ageing cities with declining skills into young and attractive ones.

Moreover, according to researchers at the LSE and University College London, the crime rates in many parts of England and Wales with many east European migrants have in fact dropped by about a third from 2006.

Based on the Polish experience, the UK politicians really should stop portraying eastern European immigrants as thieves, parasites and welfare seekers, instead start treating them as an asset that, if correctly handled, can help the UK rediscover its economic strengths.

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg

Further reading:

OECD International Migration Outlook 2013:


4 thoughts on “The British immigration dilemma

  1. I definitely agree that polish/A8 immigration has been very positive for the UK (hopefully for
    Poland and the polish people too!). I live in the East Midlands where many have come and the benefits for people like me have been significant.

    However, the issue has been badly mismanaged. Housing, workplace safety, wages under minimum wage, school places – lots of issues have been ignored, and treated as a taboo. The backlash now is quite understandable. My gut feeling is I don’t think many A2 workers will move here, but the lower wages and cultural issues could still cause real problems.

    I also worry about Serbs and Albanians coming here in future. I suspect lots would, if allowed. Now, when the accession negotiations are underway, is exactly the right time to raise it.

    • You are right in pointing out to these issues, but don’t forget that a high flow of EU immigrants (within the EU) is relatively a new trend.
      In fact only with the large EU accession of 2004 countries such as Germany, the UK and the Scandinavian started facing large flows of EU immigration from Eastern European countries.
      As such, countries are still learning how to cope with newcomers and adapt the national policies to the changing needs. I recently read an article in the Economist ( that describes how Polish migrants revived sleepy aging cities such as Southampton and Corby, who, in return undertook reforms that allowed the accommodation of the new workers.
      I am assuming this kind of experience will prove valuable in the future for the UK and other EU countries as well.

  2. Yes, I agree that Britain and other countries will learn lessons from handling migration flows better. However, in some respects the next scheduled accessions could be even harder than the ones we have seen so far.

    Polish per capita GDP is 56% of the British figure. Turkey is 41%, Serbia 29%, Albania 22%. If these countries ever join the EU the flows of economic migrants will be a tremendous challenge to us all – including Poland!

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