Unemployment in the UK falling, despite immigration increasing from Romania and Bulgaria

In January 2014, Bulgarians and Romanians gained the same rights to work in the UK as other European Union citizens, since restrictions were lifted. This understandably created a mild hysteria at the time, with the concern that millions of people from these two Eastern European countries would descend upon Britain and create a massive burden on the UK tax-payer. In fact, Nigel Farage of UKIP even stated at one point that 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians would come to the UK. The truth is that currently there are 172,000 Romanians and Bulgarians living in the UK, which has risen by only 22,000 since the start of 2014.

ONS figures have also showed this year that unemployment levels have fallen in the UK to 1.86 million, which is almost half a million down on a year ago. The UK now has the third lowest unemployment rate in the European Union at 5.7%. It can be noted that unemployment has dropped more dramatically than immigration from Romanian and Bulgaria has increased.

Last week, episode 1 of “The Romanians are coming” was aired on Channel 4. The point in this programme was to show the types of jobs and lifestyle Romanians have when they come over to the UK to work. Whilst the programme did depict many Romanians who come over to the UK to do menial labour style jobs, the theme running throughout was that Romanians, who were coming over to the UK, were intending to improve their lives and to work hard. It should also be pointed out that many people migrating over to the UK from Romania and Bulgaria are coming with degrees and skills to offer. 

To examine the figures a little more closely, according to the official figures, the number of Romanians and Bulgarians employed in the UK between January and March 2014 actually fell. It was 140,000, down 4,000, compared to the final three months of 2013. This firstly, as the restrictions were not lifted until January 2014, shows that the migrants working in the UK in 2013 were highly skilled individuals or had employment in the UK. In order for them to work in the UK, prior to the lifting of the restrictions, they would needed to either have a degree or post-graduate diploma from a UK university completed within the past 12 months, qualify under the rules of the old HSMP category (Highly Skilled Migrants Programme), have worked in the UK legally, for a continuous 12 months or have a UK visa issued before 2007 which allowed them to work. This may go to evidence that the presence of Romanians and Bulgarians in the UK prior to 2014 was beneficial to the economy, as they were in employment and contributing to the economy.

Further, the fact that in January 2014, there was not a huge influx of Romanians and Bulgarians, goes to show that unskilled persons were not in a rush to come to the UK to not work or do low skilled work.

In the last three months of 2014, October – December, this rose again to 172,000 people working in the UK who had been born in one of these two eastern European countries. In general, the number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK has risen by 15% year-on-year, according to figures by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).Whilst this is quite a high number, it is a far cry from the 29 million Mr Farage wanted to convince us of.

On the other hand, as mentioned above, unemployment in the UK has fallen dramatically according to this year’s statistics from the ONS.  There are also statistics from the ONS to show that overseas migrants do not tend to move to areas that have high unemployment; they in fact chose to migrate to areas of the country that have low unemployment. This is due to the fact that moving to an area where you cannot find work is not an appealing prospect for someone moving to a new country to make a fresh start.

Further, it can be seen that for the gross numbers of people moving in from overseas, the top 6 locations to move to are – Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, City of London, Camden, Cambridge, Oxford. A house in Westminster, for example, had an average asking price of £1.3m in December 2011, while Kensington and Chelsea, was even higher at almost £2m. It is clear that people moving into these places tend to be wealthy people, who are unlikely to be a burden on the taxpayer. This implies that the majority of migrants are coming to work and contribute to the economy.

Whilst we cannot infer that all migration from the EU is positive and that all migrants from Romania and Bulgaria are highly skilled individuals, the data implies that fears about immigration may be misplaced. A large volume of research has implied that immigration is beneficial to the economy. The increase of migration from these countries has not caused unemployment to rise and actually there are more people in the UK in employment than there was a year ago. Employment has increased by 103,000 to almost 3.1 million, which is the highest since records began in 1971. 

If you have any questions relating to the topics raised in this blog, please feel free to contact us.

Contact Newland Chase