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Skilled migration boosts the economy

Immigration and migrants have received a lot of criticism recently, and are often portrayed in the media as a drain on society. However, a recent study has shown that this is far from the truth, and that migrant workers actually have a positive impact on our economy.

Migrants are a positive influence

The employer-based study, by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), found that there was a positive and significant association between increases in employment of migrant workers and labour productivity, and that the use of migrant workers enabled employers to fill skilled and specialist roles and in some cases to expand their organisations.

In addition, the research found that far from resenting migrant workers, many British workers understand why skilled migration is needed, and while they have some concerns about job opportunities for people born in the UK, they report finding it beneficial to work alongside migrant workers.

The need for skilled migration

The research found evidence of a mismatch between how migrants are viewed by different groups. To employers, skilled migrants are a valuable way of meeting their resourcing requirements; however to the general public, migrant workers are often perceived as being low skilled and employed in low paid work. Employers also tend to see the skills on offer from migrant workers as complementary to those of UK born employees, rather than as a substitute for them.

In fact, says the research, much of the public’s concern about migration is focused on low skilled work, however this does not show the whole picture. In reality, the skill levels of migrant workers are apparently higher on average than those born in the UK.

Statistical evidence

Other key findings of the research in relation to migration and productivity include:

  • between 1997 and 2007 the presence of immigrants has been increasing in most sectors, with immigrants being on average more educated and tending to work longer hours than natives;
  • a positive correlation between the share of immigrants in region-sectors and labour productivity;
  • a positive and significant association between increases in the employment of migrant workers and labour productivity growth in the time period analysed; even after controlling for changes in the skill mix of the workforce, a 1% change in immigrant share in employment is associated with an increase in labour productivity of 0.06% to 0.07%.

“We hear a lot about public opinion and concern about migration, but our findings suggest that the need for skilled migration is more widely accepted than is often believed,” commented Heather Rolfe, one of the report’s authors. “People enjoy working alongside migrants and feel they personally benefit in terms of their own skills and the services they are able to provide.”

Putting ‘benefit tourism’ into perspective

Migrants can also be portrayed as taking more than their fair share of social security benefits, but a recent report from the European Commission has shown this view to be unfounded.

The Commission’s study found that in most EU countries, migrants from within the EU use the benefits system no more intensively than the host country’s nationals.

Looking at the findings in more detail, they show that:

  • the vast majority of EU nationals moving to another EU country do so to work,
  • activity rates among such mobile EU citizens have increased over the last seven years,
  • on average EU mobile citizens are more likely to be in employment than nationals of the host country (partly because more EU mobile citizens than nationals fall in the 15-64 age bracket), and
  • on average, the expenditures associated with healthcare provided to non-active EU mobile citizens are very small relative to the size of total health spending (0.2% on average) or the size of the economy of the host countries (0.01% of GDP on average).

According to László Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, the study makes it clear that the majority of mobile EU citizens move to another Member State to work. It also “puts into perspective the dimension of the so called benefit tourism which is neither widespread nor systematic,” he said.

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