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July 2006, Volume 13, Number 3

UK: EU-8, EU-2, Ireland

Some 161,780 foreigners became British citizens in 2005; 70 percent were from Africa and Asia. About 29,300 foreigners and their dependents applied for asylum in 2005-2006.

EU-8. Some 374,555 EU-8 nationals registered to work in the UK between May 2004 and March 2006, including 228,235 Poles (The self-employed and those in the UK less than 28 days do not have to register). EU-8 migrants can claim benefits for their children and tax credits from the moment they arrive in the UK, but cannot obtain mean-tested benefits until they have worked in the UK at least one year.

Most reports suggest that the economic impacts of the influx have been positive, giving the UK a more flexible labor market as Poles and other EU-8 migrants, unlike asylum seekers, often bypass London to fill jobs in agriculture and construction. About 28 percent of UK hotels and restaurants, 12 percent of builders and 11 percent of farmers reported hiring EU-8 migrants. The Ernst & Young Item Club estimated that interest rates were half a percentage point lower than they would have been without the influx of low-cost workers and that immigration will boost economic growth by 0.2 percent in 2006 and 0.4 percent in 2007.

However, there appears to be considerable media and public opposition to the spread of foreign workers, based on fears that their arrival will depress wages or raise unemployment and lead to "benefit" migration. Analysts say that at least some of the increase in unemployment among unskilled British workers in the past two years is due to the migrant influx, increasing the vote for the anti-immigrant British National Party in local elections on May 4, 2006. The BNP fielded candidates in 357 of 4,360 local election districts, and gained 11 seats at the expense of Blair's Labor Party in East London.

EU-2. Romania and Bulgaria (referred to as EU-2 or A-2 for accession) are expected to join the EU on January 1, 2007, raising the question of whether their nationals should have freedom to seek jobs in the EU-25. The EU in May 2006 decided to wait until October 2006 to determine their accession date; it can be deferred a year to January 1, 2008.

The British government wants to allow free entry to these potential migrants. The think tank IPPR estimated that, if the UK allowed free entry, 41,000 Romanians and 15,000 Bulgarians would migrate to the UK in 2007. Ireland in May 2006 said it may not allow free entry to Romanian and Bulgarian workers.

Both Romania and Bulgaria are poorer than EU-8 entrants such as Poland. Their per capita GDP in 2004, even adjusted for purchasing power, is only 30 percent of the EU-15 average (Poland's per capita is about 40 percent of the EU-15 average). IPPR emphasized that existing migration networks already link these countries to Italy, which has 70,000 Bulgarians, and Spain and Greece, which have 150,000 Bulgarians each, rather than the UK. German experts in May 2006 harshly criticized Bulgaria, saying the government had not done enough to crack down on criminal gangs, including those sending women to Germany as prostitutes.

About a million Bulgarians emigrated between 1990 and 2005, 11 percent of 1990 residents.

About half of the Romanians and Bulgarians in the UK live in the London area, and most arrived recently. Surveys suggest that many more Romanians and Bulgarians would emigrate if they could, but the UK government says that the number who arrive is irrelevant because their effects in the UK are positive.

Some analysts emphasize that evolving recruitment networks and more British industries and occupations are becoming dependent on migrants from the expanding EU. For example, firms recruiting Polish bus drivers to fill UK jobs may set in motion additional migration from the drivers' area of origin to other UK sectors.

Semi-compliance. Illegal foreigners can enter a country illegally or enter legally and overstay or violate the terms of their stay by, for instance, working while in tourist status. Legal entrants who do not have permission to work but do, have been defined as semi-compliant in a survey of migrants and employers released May 1, 2006. It found that most British employers praised the work ethic of EU-8 migrants, while many migrants filling farm and similar jobs that did not require their education and experience reported that they were attracted to high UK wages. Migrants tended to earn the minimum wage or a bit more, and many worked more than the usual number of hours.

British unions say there are 500,000 unauthorized foreigners in the UK, and in May 2006 demanded amnesty for them. Several illegal Nigerian janitors were sent by contract company Techclean to clean the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, embarrassing the government, which has pledged to prevent illegal entry and employment.

Finance, Prisons. The British government frequently cites a 2002 Home Office study that found migrants paying L2.5 billion more in taxes than they consume in tax-supported services each year. Migrationwatch, a restrictionist group, issued a report in April 2006 arguing that the estimates of positive fiscal impacts of migrants were due to the methodology, which assigned children with one migrant and one non-migrant parent to the native population. Doing so, according to Migrationwatch, reduced the estimated costs of migration and generated the putative surplus.

An eighth of the 80,000 prisoners in the UK are foreigners. In April 2006, it was reported that at least 1,000 foreigners convicted of crimes in the UK had been released after serving their sentences rather than deported as required by law. Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted that there had been a "systemic failure" at the Home Office despite rules for deporting foreign prisoners in place since March 2005.

On May 3, 2006 the Home Secretary announced plans to toughen laws on deporting foreign prisoners. Home Secretary Clarke was replaced as Home Secretary by John Reid, the Defense Secretary, in a major reshuffling of Blair's cabinet.

Ireland. In May 2006, the number of EU-8 nationals requesting the PPS income/social security numbers required to work in Ireland topped 206,000 for the first time. They included 116,000 Poles, 35,000 Lithuanians and 18,000 Latvians. Some of those who had been waiting for the PPS number may have returned home before it was granted.

The 2006 Irish census is expected to find 400,000 foreigners in Ireland, making them over 10 percent of the population. In the 2002 census, foreigners were six percent of the 3.9 million residents.

The AIB bank reported that 159,300 foreigners were employed in Fall 2005, eight percent of total employment of two million. Irish foreign workers included 27,800 employed in manufacturing; 23,100 in hotels and restaurants (they were 20 percent of this sector's work force); 22,600 in construction; and 21,000 each in education and health services and business services.

Low interest rates have fueled a construction boom in Ireland, which has increased employment of migrants; about 13 percent of Irish workers are employed in construction, up from eight percent in 1997. However productivity growth slowed, and economists warn that, if interest rates rise, construction could slow sharply.

Kevin Sullivan, "Foes of Foreigners Grow Vocal in Britain," Washington Post, May 4, 2006. John Steele and Joshua Rozenberg, "Jails ignored deportation guidelines a year after their issue," Telegraph, May 3, 2006. "Clarke plans tougher laws on foreign prisoners," Guardian, May 3, 2006. Heather Stewart, "Migrants boost UK's growth, Observer, April 23, 2006. "Blair Admits 'Systemic Failure' at Key Ministry," Reuters, April 26, 2006. Dustmann, C. et al. 2003. The Impact of EU Enlargement on Migration Flows. Home Office. Ruhs, Martin and Bridget Anderson. 2006. Semi-compliance in the migrant labor market. May.