Commission releases new reports on migration and the economy

Immigration has been largely beneficial to the UK's economy

19 March 2009

Immigration has been largely beneficial to the UK's economy and has had little, or no, negative impact on the labour market, according to a major report released today by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. However, the report warns that less skilled workers are likely to face greater competition from immigrants in the current recession.

The report, released at a conference today attended by some of the world's leading migration experts, reveals that net immigration of non-British nationals to the UK between 1997 and 2006 has been just over 2.2 million. The report also predicts that immigration from Eastern Europe has reached a high water mark, with natural turnover set to reduce the overall number of Eastern Europeans in the UK.

Speaking at the conference, Commission Chair Trevor Phillips argued that immigration has brought many benefits to the UK, and has not displaced large numbers of British workers or led to lower wages. However, he acknowledged that we need to take positive steps to defuse tensions that are being exacerbated by the recession.

The Commission is proposing a package of measures to ensure that British workers get the skills they need to compete for jobs and that immigration policy complements efforts to rebuild and re-skill. They include:

  • Further investment in immigrant integration, such as drawing up a clear strategy at local and central government level, and greater investment in successful integration projects which bring different communities together. The Commission-funded Croeso project in Wales offers one such example.
  • During a recession, exploitation of some workers is likely to rise. The Commission has already launched a Formal Investigation into the meat packing industry and believes that greater enforcement of labour market standards and a review of regulation could benefit those most at risk.
  • The Commission believes that recent changes aimed at ensuring employers demonstrate that they have exhausted all possibilities for finding British workers to fill a role before they are allowed to bring in a migrant worker from outside the EU are important. However, net immigration will continue and Government could examine ways to ensure the country is ready for the upturn. One way would be to change the entry criteria in favour of those most able to contribute to recovery, such as low-carbon experts or those in the knowledge economy.
  • Providing more support for those who have lost out from the recession and competition from immigrants is also important. For example, the Government could expand training programmes and examine non-compulsory ways of supplementing the income of those taking up training or new jobs.
  • Greater leadership and engagement with the issues at a central and local government level, as well as unions, businesses and others in civil society.

Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:

'Although immigrants have been the target of hostility, many of us have been taking advantage of economic growth and a higher standard of living that has been made possible only by the availability of cheaper migrant labour. Just because the country is now feeling the effects of recession, it is not the time to roll back on our belief in the powerful positive effects of managed migration.

'Instead, we need to ask how migration can help to see us through this downturn and into the recovery, how we can harness the best talent from home and abroad to rebuild our economy and how we can communicate a simple message: Immigration is not the problem. It is part of the solution.

'[And] the solution will not just lie in finding people new jobs in similar industries. The jobs in those industries will be increasingly hard to find. The solution will lie in adapting our workforce for the new economy - an economy that will be more knowledge driven, not built around the large hulking industries and even more reliant on innovation and skilled workers to fuel growth.'

The Commission argued that immigration has an overall benefit to the economy. Many British companies, such as those in the agricultural sector, would not be able to survive without low-skilled migrant labour, while highly skilled migrants are wealth creators. Similarly, foreign students help universities subsidise British students.

Research released by the Commission today on the impact of immigration in the UK, Europe and USA finds a minimal impact on both jobs and wages. The evidence shows that by and large immigrants do not displace native workers. In many cases they take up roles that would go otherwise unfilled and have a minor impact on wages (either positive or negative) for the lowest paid.

Instead, factors such as education, skills, changing demographics and technologies - and particularly at the moment market conditions - have a much greater impact on the labour market than immigration.

Where there is an impact, it tends to fall mostly on recent immigrants and those in the low-skilled, part time or temporary end of the jobs market. Above all, the most negative impacts of immigration are likely to be experienced by previous waves of immigrants. The Commission has therefore recently begun a joint programme of work with the DWP to investigate whether the recession has led to particular groups facing challenges and what steps could be taken to protect them.

The Commission's new research shows that nearly 3.7 million non-British nationals entered the UK between 1997 and 2006 and that British nationals were net emigrants, with 1.5m leaving in that period. Net immigration of non-British nationals therefore stood at around 2.2m.


For more information contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission Media Office on 02031170255, out of hours 07767272818.

Notes to Editors

For more information, including the full reports, please visit:
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission will enforce equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourage compliance with the Human Rights Act. It will also give advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.