Migrant workers’ motivation

April 2013, London

What is it that attracts immigrants here – benefits, culture, location, or something else? I doubt we will ever agree on any of these answers, but whatever each of us happen to believe (which is largely influenced by personal experiences) it is only fair to remember some facts. For example, the fact that countries like Italy and Spain have always been and will continue to be Romanians’ preferred destination, because of language and cultural similarity.

And it has already been established, both by political leaders and by academic and practitioner research (such as the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration, the Migrants Resource Centre) that immigration motivated by benefits is a myth (please click here and here to see two examples).

Immigrants don’t come to the UK to live an easy life at the cost of the state, and there will be no Bulgarian or Romanian invasion in January 2014, when the remaining work restrictions on them are lifted. What is less talked about is the fact that they take up low-paid jobs that locals don’t want, either because of the hard work for little money involved, or because of health and safety concerns. This refers in particular to jobs in the construction sector.

A study undertaken in 2009 shows that migrants are more likely to be working in sectors or occupations with a higher level of health and safety risk, and that their very status may place them at added risk (due to language skills and lack of training).

So, if immigrants come here to work for less money and in more risky jobs, they must have other motivations than seeking benefits. They must be seeking some other, stronger and deeper aims, to accept such difficult, less rewarding terms and conditions for work, than the average person would in the average job. Some seek fulfilment, others – respect; some simply appreciate the opportunity to work, while in their home country unemployment reaches 15 or 20%.

But they all seek a better life built on the basis of something that they can contribute, and which will be acknowledged without a doubt. They all find British fairness and professionalism more attractive than the benefits. This is something that we’re still struggling to accept.