Increasing numbers of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese people are moving to Britain to work, likely reflecting weak labour market conditions in the southern eurozone, a new study revealed on Wednesday (13 April).
The number of people living in Britain born in other parts of the EU has more than doubled since 2004 to reach 3.3 million last year, causing concern in some communities and fuelling calls for Britain to leave the 28-nation bloc in the June 23 referendum.
Britain, and especially London, has become a popular place for tens of thousands of southern Europeans in search of work as the governments of Spain, Portugal and Italy continue to impose austerity measures.
New figures from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford confirm that Poland and Romania continue to drive the trend, but also reveal a significant increase in migrants from Spain, Italy and Portugal.
The five countries and Hungary accounted for 553,000 of the 696,000 additional EU citizens living in Britain between 2011 and 2015, some 79 %.
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, said there was “no single factor” driving EU migration. But she said: “Despite recent debates about the role of UK policies like welfare benefits or the minimum wage in driving migration, migration may respond more to factors that governments don’t directly control, like demographics and economic growth in other EU countries.”
Unemployment in Britain is 5.0 %, compared to 20.9 % in Spain, 11.9 % in Italy and 12 % in Portugal.
Sumption said: “Some drivers are likely to remain in place for some years, such as the relatively low wages in new EU member states, particularly Romania.
“Others could potentially dissipate more quickly, like high unemployment in Spain.”
Prime Minister David Cameron agreed a deal in February to limit welfare payments to EU citizens in Britain, as a way of reducing the “pull factors” for migrants.
But proponents of a Brexit say that leaving the EU is the only way to reduce immigration.
The largest population growth between 2011 and 2015 was among Poles (from 615,000 to 818,000), followed by Romanians (87,000 to 223,000), Spaniards (63,000 to 137,000), Italians (126,000 to 176,000), Hungarians (50,000 to 96,000) and Portuguese (96,000 to 140,000).
- 23 June: Britain will vote on its membership of the European Union