Expert comment: How will lifting European Union border controls impact Bulgarian and Romanian workers?
Release Date 03 January 2014
A University of Reading analysis of the impact Bulgarian and Romanian migrants on the South East's labour market has attracted considerable coverage in the last week - initially in the Mail on Sunday, with follow up coverage in the Daily Star, Sunday Telegraph, and Daily Express.
The report for the South East Strategic Partnership for Migration last month by the University's International Centre for Housing and Urban Economy set out an analysis of the impact of existing Bulgarian and Romanian ("A2s") migrants since 2004 on the South East's labour market.
Author Dr Christian Nygaard, from the Department of Economics, said: "This short report is not secret, as the Mail on Sunday claimed. It has already been circulated widely with local authorities and other public services within the region. It does not purport to be a definitive prediction of the impact of lifting labour controls on January 1st. It pulls together existing analysis and research on the impact of Bulgarian and Romanian migration on the South East's labour market. Predicting impact in specific towns and areas is not straightforward - this is just one piece of analysis alongside wider planning, evidence and intelligence local authorities and public services are using.
"A2s have been coming in larger numbers to the UK since 2004 and the flow has been relatively stable. The transitional controls placed on A2 labour market access in the UK have been relatively ineffectual in discouraging migration. If job opportunities are unchanged and all other things being equal, there is no reason to expect any additional flow of migrants to the UK or for us to take a larger share of migrants than other European Union countries in the short run. If UK unemployment falls relative to others, than we could see an increase in our share.
"It's important to point out the report does not say there will be racial tensions between new migrants from Bulgarians and Romanians and EU citizens already here, as some media have reported. It says that lower-skilled migrants may compete directly for the same jobs - which could lead to other EU workers already here returning home. Our report does not suggest that British workers have been losing jobs to overseas migrants. Existing evidence is clear that Bulgarian and Romanian migrants take hard-to-fill vacancies in agriculture, construction, hospitality and business services, complementing not substituting the native workforce.
"There is limited evidence of a long-term pressure on public services as some commentators have claimed. Less than five per cent of existing Bulgarian and Romanian migrants arrive without infants and less than one-in-ten have children in their first four years in the UK. The uptake of benefits in existing migrants is low compared to the wider UK population and research finds a net positive contribution to the public purse. Where migrants' children are older, there might be additional pressure on schools and education resources in the short-term."
The main headlines of the report include:
- Migration from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK the year 2004 has risen: EU wide the rate of A2 migration has declined since 2007
- After London, the South East is a favoured destination for A2 nationals
- Presence of existing A2 communities in the South East will be a continued key pull factor
- High private rental costs are unlikely to be a significant push factor from the South east region.
- From the South East appears higher than for other regions.
- Employment opportunities in the South East are a pull factor
- Employment rate of 16 to 64 year old A2s peaked in 2006/07
- Little negative impact on native (UK) unemployment rates
- A2 nationals provide a supply of labour in a number of sectors and occupations with hard to fill vacancies that are important to the South East's economic development.
- The ending of transitional controls may result in some change in the skills level of A2 migrants - there has been some increase in lower skilled migration and reduced employment levels over the most recent migration cohort (2007-11)
- Impact on public services in the short-run is likely to be limited by the age of A2 arrivals but existing pressure points are likely to be stretched further
- New arrivals do not necessarily imply a similar net increase of migrants - for every two Bulgarian and Romanian national entering the UK in 2002 to 2012, one left.
- The UK's share of A2 nationals in the European Union has remained stable since 2007 - modelling suggests continued stability across Europe from this month assuming that relative labour market opportunities are unchanged.
- If UK unemployment falls relative to other European Union countries, especially compared to Spain and Italy, the modelling suggests an increase in the share of A2 migrants.