The number of Romanian and Bulgarian workers in the UK fell by 4,000 in the first quarter of this year, but increased by 28,000 compared to the first quarter of last year. So what is going on?
First, a word of caution. All these figures are based on a relatively small survey. This means that they have a tendency to fluctuate, particularly from quarter to quarter.
That said, an increase of 28,000 is a significant increase, given that these workers were subject to restrictions in the first three quarters of the period. Equally, it does not suggest that there has been a sudden rush of arrivals. Some journalists are majoring on this although, for our part, we have never suggested that there would be a sudden increase. We expect the numbers to build steadily so as to bring the population increase due to migration from Romania and Bulgaria to about 50,000 a year over the next five years. Yesterday’s statistics are not inconsistent with that estimate.
Meanwhile, we should not overlook another interesting aspect of these latest figures from the Labour Force Survey. They show that, year on year, the number of workers from the A8 (Poland etc) has increased by 115,000 – the largest annual increase for three years. Indeed, those who prefer to focus on just the last quarter might also note that 75,000 of the additional 100,000 in employment in the UK were born in the A8 countries. From the EU14 the number rose by 30,000. This brings the total increase in EU workers to 167,000 in one year.
The political parties will draw opposite conclusions, particularly as we are just one week from the Euro elections. Keith Vaz is calling on Nigel Farage to apologise because there has been no sudden rush. He will no doubt point to the further considerable increase in migration from the EU as a whole. Indeed, taken together, these latest figures indicate that it may not be long before net migration from the EU exceeds that from the rest of the world.
More (and better) ammunition can be expected for one side or the other on 22nd May – election day – when, as it happens, we will get the immigration estimates for the first quarter as well as the number of National Insurance numbers issued.
In the longer term the debate will be about whether there is a conflict between controlling immigration to the UK and continued membership of the EU. One quarter’s figures will certainly not resolve this, especially as the stakes could hardly be higher.