The arguments over immigration and migrant workers have dominated headlines recently.
First the Home Office sent vans to six London areas encouraging illegal immigrants to return home. Then Labour MP Chris Bryant criticised the hiring practices of Tesco and Next. Given the topical nature of migration, this week’s Blast from the Past revisits Accession to Recession, published in 2009.
The report looked at the role of migrant workers in the labour markets of Bristol and Hull. It found that in these two cities the arrival of migrants had not created a barrier to the long term unemployed finding a job. Instead three other factors were found to be key in restricting the employment opportunities of the long term out of work in both cities. These were:
In other words the problems related much more closely to the skills of the indigenous unemployed and the workings of the welfare system than to immigration itself. In Bristol in particular some interviewees reported, albeit before the beginning of the recession, that some jobs would not have been filled without the availability of migrant workers. This would have had a knock on impact in terms of growth in the city.
There were differences between the two cities too, particularly in the profile of the migrants that each attracted. In Hull migrants tended to be older, male and intended only to stay for short periods. While in the city they were also most likely to be employed in low skilled occupations. The opposite was the case in Bristol – migrants were more likely to be female than in Hull, more likely to stay in Bristol for a longer period, more highly educated and working in relatively higher skilled jobs. These trends are likely to have reflected the differences in economic activity in the two cities.
The current debate focuses very much on the impact that migrants have on the labour market. But as Jonathan Portes of NIESR argues, the focus needs to shift towards a debate about the barriers preventing long term unemployed accessing jobs and the role that the current skills and education system plays within this. The differences in the profile of migrants in Hull and Bristol also show that policies should also reflect local differences. Schools, Further Education colleges and Work Programme providers need to understand what impact these differences have on job opportunities when teaching, providing skills or attempting to find work for the people that they serve.
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