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Migration is a two-way street – Brits benefit too

by Jack Schickler | 18.02.2016

The latest figures out today show a record number of EU migrants working in the UK – rising above 2 million for the first time. “MILLIONS of EU migrants grab our jobs”, thunders the Express. More soberly, the Times reports it as a “blow to Cameron” as he headed to Brussels for a major summit negotiation.

But the fact that large numbers of Brits are themselves migrants is seldom mentioned in the Eurosceptic press.

Statistics from Oxford University’s Migration Observatory show that in a typical year, 150,000 British citizens emigrate – although not all to the EU. Although there is a wide range of estimates of how many Brits live in the EU – and the lack of an agreed definition of what constitutes living in a particular country – a House of Commons briefing thinks the best figure is 1.2 million. It also concludes that there are roughly 3 million EU citizens living in the UK.

Many Brits are EU migrants….

These figures, though, don’t include people who live abroad part time. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) reckoned in 2008 that, if you include part-timers, there were 1 million Brits living in Spain, and a third of a million apiece living in France and Ireland. The think-tank reached these estimates in part by making assumptions to fill gaps in the data. At the same time, the British Government reported that 210,000 English households had a second home elsewhere in Europe – mainly in France and Spain.

Of course some work abroad only for a short period. EU membership makes that easier. In 2013, 30,000 UK-based workers benefited from the specific EU regime for workers temporarily posted to another EU country. EU rules also means that – if you work abroad within the bloc – your time there can count towards any benefits you might later want to claim in the UK, including your pension.

… though not all of them to work

Of course, not all Brits in other EU countries are working. The Guardian reports that over 30,000 Britons are claiming unemployment benefit in other EU nations. That is a little under half of the 65,000 EU migrants claiming jobseekers’ allowance in the UK. But the Guardian counts 9 countries where our citizens claim more from them than they do from us – to coin a phrase, we are in dole deficit with Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, France and Ireland.

Meanwhile, many seek to retire abroad, for a place in the sun or other reasons. The IPPR notes 330,000 pensioners in the top five EU countries alone (Ireland, Spain, France Italy, and Germany).

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…and others want to, including young people

The latest figures show that 69 per cent of Brits agree it is important they have the right to work in other EU countries. Meanwhile 57 per cent of young British people said they would like to work in another EU country. In 2014, nearly 37,000 took the opportunity to study, train or volunteer under the EU’s Erasmus+ programme.

So migration is a two-way street. But even then, free movement of workers is just one of the four freedoms of the EU’s single market – the others being free movement of capital, goods and services. They are not easily divorced from each other. A recent Swiss request to restrict EU migration – while also seeking better access in areas like financial services – met a frosty reception from Europe. “The internal market and its four freedoms are indivisible”, the EU retorted. With the single market, it is not easy to have your cake and eat it.

Edited by Victor Sebestyen

This article was amended on 26 February to reflect numbers from the recent House of Commons briefing paper, and make corresponding observations about the IPPR figures.