How well integrated are young EU migrants in the UK workforce?

How well integrated are young EU migrants in the UK workforce? 2017-08-29T17:06:58+00:00

Migration and the principle of free movement within the EU are one of the main issues in the debate over whether Britain should remain in the European Union. Polls suggest that the public is very sympathetic to the idea that the UK should restrict immigration and that it is the source of numerous problems. But why is this? And are these fears justified?

There is a great deal of heat generated in the media on this subject, but very little of it is based on fact. Our research intends to contribute some evidence to this debate. We studied the levels of young people migrating to the UK from across the EU and elsewhere, their qualifications and what kind of jobs they did when they arrived.

We found that young EU migrant citizens are well integrated in the UK labour market. They have higher employment rates, work longer and are less likely to receive jobseeker’s allowance than their UK peers.

Nevertheless, we can also clearly identify differences in the pay and conditions they will accept. The wages of young EU migrant citizens from Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries are often lower, and the contracts are more likely to be precarious. Moreover, these workers are very often overqualified for the jobs they are doing.

We focused on six different groups of young people in the UK. Everyone in the study was aged between 20 and 34 (60% of all migrants who had arrived in the UK in the last five years are in this age group). Specifically, we focused on those who had been born outside the UK with no UK citizenship and were resident in the UK for one year or more, having arrived in the UK within the past five years. Our analysis is based on pooled data from the UK Labour Force Survey (2010-2014), a large quarterly survey of the UK resident population.

We divided the sample into the following groups: CEE (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia); Bulgaria and Romania; Southern European countries (Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain); remaining EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland and Sweden); and migrants from the rest of the world.

High employment

Overall, EU migrant citizens have relatively high employment rates. Young migrant workers from CEE have an employment rate of 82%, compared with an employment rate of 73% among young people born in the UK. While workers born in the UK on average worked a 40-hour week, most EU migrant citizens worked at least one hour more per week.

Our analysis shows that while 8.5% of those born in the UK were unemployed between 2010 and 2014, just 5% of migrants from CEE said they had been without a job during that period. Moreover, the probability of receiving jobseeker’s allowance is about 20% among unemployed EU migrant citizens and 38% among young UK citizens.

Minimising skills shortages

Free movement of workers also contributes to reducing skill shortages. EU migrant citizens from CEE are much more likely than UK nationals to work in manufacturing, thereby positively contributing to the much-heralded ‘rebalancing of the UK economy’.

Young people from Bulgaria and Romania are more likely than any other group to work in construction, thereby reducing the shortage of construction workers and positively contributing to the building of much-needed housing and infrastructure.

Somewhat more surprisingly, especially if compared to the oft-used image of poverty migration, young EU migrant citizens from Bulgaria and Romania are as likely to work in financial services as UK youths.

Highly qualified

Many of the EU migrant citizens are highly qualified. Recent young European migrant workers from CEE are often overqualified for the jobs in which they are working. But young migrants from the rest of the EU and outside Europe did better than expected in the jobs they secured when matched with the median for qualifications held by others in the same occupation.

Paid less

On average, young migrant citizens from CEE as well as Bulgaria and Romania are paid around one-fifth less than their UK peers in gross hourly wages. Meanwhile, other EU migrant citizens do much better: those from southern Europe receive comparable rates to UK peers, while those from the rest of Europe (mostly from France and Germany) earn on average more than 20% higher hourly wages than their UK peers. Workers from the EU were overall more likely to be employed on a fixed-term contract or by a temping agency.


Overall, young EU migrant citizens are well integrated into the UK labour market. But there are significant differences when it comes to how much their pay and skills match. Migrants from CEE countries and Bulgaria and Romania are at a disadvantage on this front.

The reasons why – whether it is discrimination against hiring Eastern Europeans or a failing on their part – are questions for future research to address. What is clear in the context of the EU referendum debate, however, is that EU migrant citizens contribute to an overall high employment rate and the diverse workforce in the UK − by providing sorely needed skills in various sectors of the economy.

Figure 1: Young people with qualifications higher than median qualifications in occupation

Data: Pooled UK quaterly labour force survey, 2010-2014: weighted estimates adjusted for sampling design.
*Recent migrants: arrived within last 5 years, country of birth not UK and no UK citzenship.

Figure 2: Youth migrant citizens’ gross hourly wages* relative to UK youth

Data: Pooled UK quaterly labour force survey, 2010-2014: weighted estimates adjusted for sampling design.
*Hourly wage: Estimates of the logarithm of gross hourly pay (HOURPAY variable) adjusted for CPI.


Spreckelsen, Thees, Janine Leschke and Martin Seeleib-Kaiser. Forthcoming. ‘Europe’s Promise for Jobs? Labor Market Integration of Young EU Migrant Citizens in Germany and the United Kingdom’. In Youth Labor in Transition, edited by Jacqueline O’Reilly, Janine Leschke, Renate Ortlieb, Martin Seeleib-Kaiser and Paola Villa. New York: Oxford University Press.

An earlier version of this was originally published in The Conversation: