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Jonathan Oxley - Regular Column

12 Aug 2016
Immigration is having a big impact on the world of work and the nature of the society we live in, so it is no surprise that this is one of the key issues in the EU referendum debate.

The sharp rise in immigration to the UK in recent years is clear to see in everyday life and is borne out by statistics. The September 2015 report of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford revealed that the share of foreign born people in total employment in the UK rose from 7.2 per cent in 1993 to 16.7 per cent in 2014. The fastest increase has been in those working as process operatives where, by 2014, foreign born workers accounted for 32 per cent of the workforce.

The general upward trend in employment of foreign workers picked up sharply with the opening of UK labour markets to the so called "A8" countries (which include Poland, Latvia, Hungary and the Czech Republic) in 2006. 

Freedom of movement within the EU means greater flows of migration, indeed the point of freedom of movement is to facilitate just that.

However, according to UN figures, more Britons emigrate to the rest of the world, in particular Australia, the United States and Asia, than they do to Europe. Of 4.5m Britons living abroad, only around 1.3m are in Europe. The most popular destinations are Spain, Ireland and France. 

By contrast there are, according to the same source, approximately 2.9m Europeans in Britain.

Whether migration is a good thing depends on your perspective. Representing the IoD at a recent EU referendum debate at the University of York, I heard contributions from a number of academics and other staff who are from European countries including Greece, Spain and the Netherlands. The discussion was the richer for their contributions and different perspectives.

A 2015 survey of IoD members found that reforming freedom of movement to reduce the number of EU migrants was only sixth equal on a list of priorities relating to the EU. The top priorities were the reduction of red tape, ending or reforming the goal of ever closer union and structural reforms to encourage competitiveness.
In the IoD's November 2015 Policy Voice survey, 58 per cent of respondents felt migrant workers had made their businesses more productive. 63 per cent thought free movement of workers within the EU is a benefit to UK businesses and 71 per cent cannot find all the skills they need in the UK to enable them to compete in the global market.

It seems that the global view is one we have to take. Like it or not, it is a smaller, more flexible and interconnected world. Perhaps it always has been. 

According to an article in the New Scientist in March 2015, the DNA of white Britons is largely derived from a first wave of migration from what are now Germany, Belgium and France from around 9,000BC. A second wave of Anglo Saxons came from Denmark and North West Germany, with a hint of Viking (Norway), from around AD800 to 950 in the far north. 

Another wave of migration from Eastern Europe is, in this context, just more of the same.  
Whether we are in or out of the EU, globalisation and movement of people for work, education and safety is going to be the trend of the future.  The challenge is to adapt, embrace and benefit from that trend. 

Contact IoD Yorkshire

Contact the branches team here.

IoD Yorkshire & North East
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