UK's foreign workforce declines amid pandemic

Employees from abroad comprised 16 per cent of the UK workforce in the third quarter of last year, according to report from Oxford University's Migration Observatory.

This represented a drop of two per cent on the same period in 2019 but the observatory said it was unable to identify a specific reason for the decline in a year when both the pandemic and Brexit affected the jobs market."There are several factors that could explain the decrease in the estimated share of foreign-born workers among the total employed population, including a larger increase in unemployment among migrant workers compared to the UK born; an increase in the number of migrant workers leaving the UK to their countries of origin; and problems in data collection since March 2020," said this week's report."At the time of writing, the available data are not sufficient to determine how much each of these factors is contributing."The report found marked differences in the type of work overseas staff were engaged in, depending on what part of the world they originated from.About 45 per cent of workers born in India, for instance, and 42 per cent of those from EU-14 nations were in high-skilled jobs, including corporate managers, doctors, nurses, scientists and engineers.Those from India were particularly highly represented in IT and communications, said the observatory, which found that employees born in EU-14 countries and India had the highest annualised median earnings in 2019 of £33,000."By contrast, workers born in new EU accession countries were over-represented in low-skilled occupations, such cleaners, waiters, or packers," added the report.The analysis also found that about half of highly-educated workers born in newer EU member states - primarily those in Eastern Europe - were in low and medium-low skilled jobs."Compared to the UK born, migrants are more likely to work in jobs for which they are over-qualified, especially if they have foreign qualifications," said the report. "In general, workers are considered overqualified for their jobs if their educational level is above that required for their jobs."Some of the factors explaining migrants’ high over-qualification rates include the lack of UK-specific skills, employers’ mistrust of or unfamiliarity with foreign qualifications, or migrants’ lack of information about the job searching process in the UK."Other findings from the report included:
  • Migrant men are more likely to be employed than UK-born men (84 per cent against 79 per cent in 2019). However, among women, migrants are less likely to be in work (67 per cent vs 73 per cent).
  • Unemployment rates for both migrants and those born in the UK fell steadily from 2012 to 2019, but the unemployment rate increased sharply among migrants during the second and third quarters of 2020.
  • In 2019, unemployed migrants were less likely to claim unemployment benefits (17 per cent) than UK born unemployed workers (29 per cent)
  • Migrants were over-represented in the hospitality sector (30 per cent in 2019), transport and storage (28 per cent), information, communication and IT (24 per cent) and health and social work (20 per cent).

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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