Three reasons not to panic about Romanian and Bulgarian immigration

Here are three reasons not to accept tabloid hysteria about Romanian and Bulgarian migration.

Depending on who you listen to, when curbs are liften on Romanian and Bulgarian citizens coming to the UK on January 1 migrants are going to ‘flood’ (sometimes ‘swamp’) Britain either to a) steal our jobs or b) steal our benefits.

In other words, much of the rhetoric surrounding Bulgarian and Romanian migration could hardly be more incoherent.

While there is a legitimate debate to be had over the economic and social benefits of migration from elsewhere in the European Union, there are a number of unhelpful myths doing the rounds which are fostering panic (and xenophobia) rather than rational discussion.

With that in mind, we’ve drawn up three reasons not to accept the sort of hysteria being peddled by the tabloids. Don’t panic, in other words; the world is almost certainly not going to end as we know it on January 1.

1) It’s not like 2004

In 2004, only Britain, Ireland and Sweden opened their labour markets to migrants from Eastern Europe, which accounts for many choosing the UK as a destination ahead of other European countries. This time around, however, other EU countries are opening up to migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, making it far less likely that migrants will choose to come to Britain. The German economy is performing far better than the UK economy at present, for example, making it a much more attractive destination for migrants.

2) Migrants from Eastern Europe are less likely to claim benefits than indiginous Britons

In tabloid-land, Eastern Europeans are hungrily eyeing-up the benefits they might claim once on UK soil, but most migrants from the EU do not come to Britain to sign on, but to work. Migrants who came to the UK after the year 2000 have made a ‘substantial’ contribution to public finances, according to a recent study by University College London.

Those from the European Economic Area (EEA – the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) made a particularly strong contribution in the decade up to 2011, contributing 34 per cent more in taxes than they received in benefits, the study found.

3) There is little evidence that migrants depress wages

There is some evidence to suggest that migration to the UK from Eastern Europe has depressed wages, but it is not nearly as straightforward as the papers make out. There is, for example, evidence to suggest that the 5 per cent of lowest paid workers experienced a small short-term squeeze on wages as a result of migration between 1997 and 2005: for each 1 per cent increase in the share of migrants in the UK-born working age population, there was a 0.6 percent decline in the wages of the 5 per cent lowest paid workers.

This is certainly something that should concern the left.

However the same study found that an increase in the number of migrants corresponding to 1 percent of the UK-born working-age population in the years 1997-2005 resulted in an increase in average wages of 0.2 to 0.3 percent.

There are certainly areas of concern over wages, but it’s not simply a case of blaming immigrants for falling wages because that’s not where the evidence leads – there is some evidence that migration depressed wages at the very bottom of the labour market and also evidence that it drove up the average.

Some studies have even contradicted the idea of a decrease in wages at all. A study carried out between 2004 and 2006 by Jonathan Portas of NIESR also found “little hard evidence that the inflow of accession migrants contributed to a fall in wages or a rise in claimant unemployment in the UK”.

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