By Alex Orr
Scotland is no stranger to those coming from Eastern Europe, many of who have settled here and started families, but the issue of immigration has reared its head again in the context of the impact of the lifting in 2014 of European Union (EU) restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians coming to these shores.
Figures of between 30,000 to 70,000 Romanians and Bulgarians coming to the UK in each of the next five years have, for example, been bandied around.
This has been compounded by the fact that the UK Government is unable to say how many will be coming. Before Poland became a member of the EU in 2004, the Home Office that between 5,000 and 13,000 Poles would come to Britain every year. Within two years 264,560 had arrived.
There have even been reports of plans being drawn up for an advertising campaign denouncing Britain as cold and wet in order to deter Romanians and Bulgarians from coming here. Angered by this a Romanian news site has hit back commenting that "Half our women look like Kate; the other half look like her sister." It also dismissed Britain as a place with "bad weather, no jobs and no houses."
Early this month Conservative MP, Stewart Jackson, presented a bill calling for limits to be imposed on the immigration process for Romanian and Bulgarians coming to Britain, commenting on earlier “mistakes” which saw a “very large number of low-wage, low-skill workers and embed welfare dependency in our indigenous workforce.”
What Mr Jackson omits to mention is the positive impact of the last big influx of workers from new EU member countries. Yes, it was vastly higher than predicted, but it was also more successful than forecast.
According to a study conducted by The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, migrants from so-called A8 countries (the eight countries that joined the EU in 2004) made a positive contribution to the country’s public finances in each fiscal year since their EU accession. Although they mostly work in low-wage jobs, their labour-force participation and employment rates tend to be higher than average, which offsets the impact of their lower wages.
A number of studies show that immigrants are slowing the ageing of Britain’s population. And despite the popular belief that a new wave of immigrants will increase unemployment, the National Institute of Economics and Social Research says there is no aggregate impact of migration on unemployment.
Perhaps most importantly, the UK today is less attractive to would-be immigrants than it was ten years ago. In 2004 only the UK and two other countries did away with almost all restrictions for workers from A8 countries. Because it was the largest of three and its economy was booming, the UK was a very attractive option. This time, all EU countries are opening their labour markets to Romanians and Bulgarians, and the UK economy is in dire straits.
The potential influx of Romanians and Bulgarians into the UK may therefore be more an issue of perception than reality.
Alex Orr is a Board Member of the European Movement