On migration and economic migrants in the West Midlands

A migrant worker is someone who immigrates to another country to seek employment and improve his/her financial position. More and more people are becoming migrant workers, shifting from one country to another, either to seek work or progress to a better job.

Economic globalisation has triggered a rapid increase in cross-border movement of both goods and people, especially over the last two decades or so and human capital has become more flexible than ever. Foreign workers are increasingly common in certain countries (for example, in some Western European countries or the US).

Migrant workers are often concentrated within particular local economies, where they are helping to address labour and skills shortages in key sectors.

According to a survey released by Gallup (November 2009) around 16% (700 million adults) of the world’s population would like to permanently move to another country. If this happened the number of global migrants would more than quadruple.

There are about 686,000 official migrant workers in England at the moment (this is about 1.3% of the total population).

Numbers have fallen slightly over the last 2 years, mainly due to the economic downturn and the falling value of sterling against many currencies. (Source: the impact of the recession on migrant labour, Local Government Association, January 2009.)

A 2005 International Passenger Survey showed that 43% of all respondents gave work-related reasons for migrating but the figure was 85% for A8 migrants. A8 accession countries group includes the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

A 2007 Observatory report on migrant workers showed 62% of the migrants in the West Midlands stated they were here primarily for economic reasons.

The number of migrant workers in the West Midlands decreased by 7% over the last 2 years, reaching 43,910 people for 2008/09, according to National Insurance Number Registrations to Adult Overseas Nationals entering the UK from June 2009.

The top 10 source countries (in decreasing order) were:

  1. Poland
  2. India
  3. Pakistan
  4. Slovak Republic
  5. Bulgaria
  6. Romania
  7. People’s Republic of China
  8. France
  9. Nigeria
  10. Republic of Latvia

Although Poles alone still account for over 24% of the total migrant workers in the West Midlands, their numbers have reduced dramatically (by some 35%) over the last year. Numbers of Slovak nationals have fallen by 21%.

However, at the same time, numbers of Romanian and Bulgarian nationals have increased by 106% and 54% respectively between 2008-2009.

The explanation for the substantial increase in arrivals from Romania and Bulgaria lies in their accession to the EU in January 2007 and the subsequent loosening of the previously tight visa regulations. Although these migrant workers still require a work permit to take employment in the country, many agricultural, food and drink and hotel work schemes have been opened up to these new EU nationals.

The growth in arrivals of A2 nationals has outstripped national trends. Last year the number of Romanians in England increased by just 4% and that of Bulgarians by just 15%.

Meanwhile, numbers of workers from the Republic of Latvia and Nigeria increased by 48% and 40% respectively in the West Midlands.

The number of Nigerians has increased by 56% in the West Midlands and by 43% in England in 2008/09 compared to 2006/07.

One explanation can relate to the lifting of temporary visa restrictions (effective between April 2005 and March 2006) on first time Nigerian visitors aged 18–30. The restriction was imposed due to an overwhelming previous numbers of applications.

In addition, not all migrant arrivals are captured by the official figures. Significant numbers are still to obtain relevant work documents.

There is also a significant number of illegal migrants but the research on their main nationalities is rather rare and uses small scale samples.

Some data can be obtained from detention centres. According to these, at a national level, between 2001–2006 significant numbers of irregular migrants were from Jamaica, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, Turkey and India, in descending order.

Furthermore, some qualitative research conducted by the detention centres showed that illegal migrants tend to be males aged between 25–29. (Source: Clandestino project briefing, July 2009, pdf, 107kb.)

In conclusion, to put all this in perspective I will mention that each of A2 accession countries account for just above 3% of total migrants in the West Midlands. Nigerians and Latvians account for around 2% each. Polish and Indian nationals remain the predominant migrant workforce at 24% and 10% respectively.

Most of the migrant workers tend to take employment in areas such as manufacturing, education, hotel and restaurants and agriculture.

Employers in these areas are faced with a short supply of domestic candidates with required skills (41% of the employers interviewed in a British Chamber of Commerce survey (pdf, 1.79mb) have stated this) and experience (35% stated this).

Top 10 source countries of migrant workers in the West Midlands

Country of origin Number of migrants Percentage of total migrants in the West Midlands
Poland 10,690 24.3%
India 4,320 9.8%
Pakistan 3,000 6.8%
Slovak Republic 2,270 5.2%
Bulgaria 1,720 3.9%
Romania 1,460 3.3%
People’s Republic of China 1,340 3.1%
France 1,070 2.4%
Nigeria 980 2.2%
Republic of Latvia 930 2.1%

Source: 100% extract from National Insurance Recording System, June 2009

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