Young migrants from Central and Eastern Europe ‘the hardest working in the UK’

25 February 2016

Young migrants from EU countries have higher employment rates and are less likely to seek jobseekers allowance than their UK peers, according to an EU-funded study* by the University of Oxford.

Researchers analysed UK Quarterly Labour Force survey data between 2010 and 2014 and found that migrants from Central and Eastern Europe scored the highest, with 82% of them in employment compared with 73% of young people born in the UK.

Workers born in the UK did an average 40-hour working week, but most EU migrants did at least an hour more, according the data analysis. It also reveals that while 8.5% of those born in the UK were unemployed in the period studied, just five per cent of those from Central and Eastern Europe said they had been without a job during that time in the UK.

The researchers found that migrants from Central and Eastern Europe are much more likely than UK nationals to go into manufacturing, while young people from Bulgaria and Romania are more likely than any other group to work in construction and as likely to work in financial services as UK youths.

Recent young European migrant workers from Central and Eastern Europe, and Bulgaria and Romania, are often overqualified for the jobs they are working in. However, young migrants from the rest of the EU and outside Europe did better than expected in the jobs they secured when matched with the median for qualifications held by others in the same occupation.

Young migrants from Central and Eastern Europe, and Bulgaria and Romania, were found to be paid around one-fifth less, on average, than their UK peers in gross hourly wages. Meanwhile, other migrants did much better: those from southern Europe got comparable rates to UK peers while the remainder did better than UK peers with higher hourly wages, on average. 

Irrespective of their country of origin, about 60% of all migrants who had arrived in the UK in last five years and had lived here for at least one year were in the 20-34 age bracket, says the study. It finds that the proportion of young migrants coming here from Central and Eastern Europe has dropped by 10 percentage points since the economic crisis of 2008. More females than males are now arriving from CEE countries, reversing the trend before 2010.

To date, little research has been done into how young migrants from across EU countries fare in the labour market in the UK. Previous studies have compared much smaller groups of countries with migrants from non-EU countries or specific ethnic groups. The Barnett working paper, ‘Dimensions of labour market integration among young EU migrant citizens in the UK’, is by Dr Thees Spreckelsen and Professor Martin Seeleib-Kaiser from the Department of Social Policy and Intervention.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Spreckelsen said: ‘Young EU migrant citizens work long hours, often at lower pay and worse conditions than UK youth, despite the fact that many of them are highly qualified.’ 

Professor Seeleib-Kaiser added: ‘Contrary to the widespread image of “poverty migrants”, a significant proportion of EU migrant citizens from Bulgaria and Romania are employed in high-skilled jobs and overall many young EU migrant citizens fill skill gaps in the UK economy.’

For more information, contact the University of Oxford News Office on +44 (0)1865 280534 or email:

Notes for Editors:

  • The research was funded as part of the STYLE project. The project has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no. 613256.
  • The research focused on six different groups of young people in the UK. All those included in the study were aged 20-34, who had been born outside the UK with no UK citizenship and resident in the UK for one year or more, having arrived in the UK within the last five years. They are studied in the following groups: Central and Eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia); Bulgaria and Romania; Southern European countries (Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain); remaining EU countries (Austria, Benelux, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland and Sweden); and migrants from the rest of the world.
  • The Quarterly Labour Force Survey is the largest social survey in the UK, each quarter all adult members from 41,000 randomly selected private households are interviewed in a rotating design. Each household stays in the survey for five consecutive quarters. The data is analysed for unemployment and inactivity, average time worked per week, average gross hourly wages, whether they have a permanent contract, works full or part-time, and the degree of skills-occupation mismatch (whether they have higher, same or lower qualifications than the median in the occupation peer group). Researchers also assess the uptake of employment-related benefits, such as unemployment benefits.