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EU migration: "UK is dangerously close to crossing the point of no return"

4 min read

28 November 2014

The issue over EU migration is now taking on worrying diplomatic overtones. And the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has warned that the UK is dangerously close to crossing the point of no return.

While it’s right that the government continues to review the wider societal impact of immigration, it’s important to recognise the vital role that migrants continue to play in a growing UK jobs market.

This is something that Gerwyn Davies, labour market adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) also agrees with. “Employers have undoubtedly benefitted from the increased supply of more experienced and highly-qualified migrants from all corners of the globe to fill the sharp increase in the number of vacancies they have created over the past year,” he said.

“Overall, employers are choosing to employ more experienced and qualified workers from overseas over less experienced UK workers, or simply because there are not enough applicants in the local labour market.”

As CIPD research shows, what the vast majority of employers are not doing is hiring migrants to lower the wage bill or offset the need to train the workforce.

“The question therefore is not whether ambitious employers who are recruiting migrant workers should be restricted in their efforts to grow their businesses and contribute to the UK economy,” explains Davies. “It is a broader issue about how we can increase the number of firms looking to grow the capabilities of their workforces and provide more opportunities for job progression. We need to rebalance our jobs economy, to reduce the large proportion of low-skilled jobs, and to invest in a broader skilled, more competitive workforce.”

Looking at the CIPD figures in more detail, Davies continues: “The increase in the number of migrants from EU15 countries looking for work is particularly significant because we know that they are disproportionately employed in highly-skilled, value-added jobs, which reflects the modest productivity dividend EU15 migrants provide to UK businesses.

“At the same time, a significant statistical increase in the number of Romanians and Bulgarians (EU2) seeking work has helped address the difficulty employers have had in filling low-skilled vacancies, which has seen a higher share of the employment growth we have seen recently. This is largely because difficulty attracting UK-born candidates to fill unskilled or semi-skilled roles remains the most important reason for employing EU migrants.”

As is evident, the UK economy has a great need for specialist skills that foreign workers bring to this economy; if we wish to compete with other nations, we need the free movement of labour. Immigration policy needs to take into account the long term needs of the economy, rather than responding to short term political objectives. 

“Britain’s primary focus should be to maintain migration that benefits the economy and put restriction on migration which is purely to gain from Britain’s social security benefits,” said Sarosh Zaiwalla, founder and senior partner at Zaiwalla & Co Solicitors. 

“In the run up to a general election it can be tempting to acquiesce to popular opinion focused on the negative aspects of international migration and to lay this at the door of the EU, without regard to the overall benefits that have been derived by the UK through membership in the EU.  

“However, these are important questions, and the UK’s membership in the EU, if it is to be put in question at all, should not be done so for purely political or emotive reasons stemming from a single issue.”