"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Immigration and reactions

In May 2004, when the EU expanded from 15 to 25 member states, only Ireland, Sweden and the U.K. declined to impose restrictions on the free movement of workers from the 10 new member states. In the 28 months or so since, there has been a remarkable influx of Eastern European workers into this country. The majority seem to be Poles, but there are also Lithuanians, Latvians, Slovaks and workers from each of the new states.

According to the OECD in June 2006:
"Since [May 2004], the UK and Ireland have received a significant number of immigrants from these countries, Sweden to a lesser extent. From May 2004 to the end of December 2005, 345 000 workers from the new member states were registered in the United Kingdom. In Ireland, from May 2004 to May 2005, 83 000 nationals of the new EU member states were registered, equal to 4% of the Irish labour force. "

According to Dr. Mary Gilmartin of UCD, working with figures accurate to the end of April 2006:
"Since May 2004, over 200,000 new PPS numbers have been issued. Of these, over 110,000 were issued to people from Poland, over 30,000 were issued to people from Lithuania, and over 15,000 to people from Latvia."

Even if the figure of 200,000, one must factor in the percentage of workers who came to Ireland for a number of months and went home again. But even working with a figure 150,000, this represents 7% of the Irish labour force. And in all of this there has been relatively little political dissent or objection. Pat Rabbitte made a comment about there being plenty more Poles where they came from, or words to that effect. But no considered analysis, or temperate raising of questions. By contrast, something of a political furore has erupted across the Irish Sea. Moves are afoot to reverse the open door police adopted in May 2004, as regards workers from Romania and Bulgaria, as and when the latter countries join the Union, which is scheduled for January 2007. Recent U.K. figures show, according to The Economist, that:
"427,000 migrants from eastern Europe had registered for work between May 2004 and June 2006. These figures do not include the self-employed, such as the supposedly ubiquitous Polish plumber. Allowing for that, the true figure was nearly 600,000 according to Tony McNulty, a Home Office minister."

To quote again from the same source:
"John Salt, director of the migration research unit at University College London, says that the population movement since May 2004 is the biggest single wave of migration in British history. Certainly this is the case in absolute terms, although he adds that the arrival of Huguenots from France in the late 17th century may have been bigger as a share of the population."

Taking a figure of 30 million for the U.K. labour force, 600,000 amounts to 2%. Now, surely the last two years must constitute "the biggest single wave of migration in [Irish] history". What accounts for the different political response to such figures between Ireland and the U.K.? After all, we have taken in abour three times more from the new member states. One point to make is that the U.K. has a much longer history of immigration. London is the most "multicultural" city in the world. Another is that significant parts of the British press seem to take any opportunity to blame the EU, for whatever current topic is in the headlines. On top of that, immigration as a topic seems to resonate in a negative sense with certain portions of the British public. Of course, one must differentiate between (say) the shambles that the U.K.'s asylum system has become (it only seems to have worsened over the last 10 years), and the relatively orderly system of economic migration from the new member states. By contrast to the position across the water, large-scale immigration is a phenomenon new to modern Ireland. We simply have never seen anything like this before, and are feeling our way slowly to a view of the best way forward.

One cannot doubt the benefits to our expanding economy of the new member state workers (not to mention the approximately 60,000 Chinese: see Dr. Gilmartin's piece). I certainly fully appreciate those benefits. They seem to be very hard-working. They are willing to take jobs that fewer and fewer Irish would take. I've yet to encounter a disobliging or discourteous immigrant waiter or shop assistant. And it is probably a positive experience for us to have persons of other cultures and backgrounds mingling through our society. It broadens horizons I suppose. But there are other factors. Low-wage workers, at least in some areas, have seen their incomes stagnate. Integration should be a priority. Thankfully, this seems to be proceeding relatively well. Polish shops and masses are fine by me, provided that our new countrymen do not keep entirely to themselves, as has happened with immigrant populations elsewhere. On that score, I think (and this is just a personal suggestion) we're doing ok. But it will be fascinating to see whether the Government is swayed by the U.K. u-turn and considers imposing restrictions on the issue of the rate of immigration becomes an issue in the 2007 general election.

Update (Aug. 29th; 1.10pm)
When writing this post, I was unaware of an August 26th report in the Irish Independent, claiming that the Government is indeed to introduce a work permit system for migrants from Bulgaria and Romania. It was adverted to that day by Simon over at Irish Election. A very perceptive comment was left by "Adam", which I quote in full:
"There’s a debate going on on the Politics forum of Boards.ie about imposing work restrictions on EU citizens; the problem is that all the work restrictions in the world can’t stop people traveling to other EU countries; there is still a freedom of movement that is central to the European project.What that essentially means is that people will travel here and join the black-market work force; it’s already happened in the 12 other “old EU” countries that imposed restrictions on the 10 new states in 2004. Indeed the actual effect has been that the likes of Ireland, the UK and Sweden have gotten the educated Polish workers who have something to offer while the less educated masses went for the labour-intensive jobs in the EU black market. Apparently even if someone from Poland was caught working in, say Germany illegally they can only be deported; at which point they can return freely as “tourists” and start all over again.At least with the freedom to work we have documented immigrants who pay taxes and contribute to the economy."


Blogger Simon said...

Interesting piece. on intergration. While watching the Dublin Mayo match today at one point the camera panned into hill 16 and showed a black guy in a dubs top chanting anyway with the rest of the dubs. Can't really intergrate more in Ireland then the GAA.

Wait till the Kuba Wasaksci scores the winning goal to give tipp the All-Ireland against Cork for the 6 year running. Then it will be complete

Mon Aug 28, 12:54:00 AM GMT+1  

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