Global Economics

East European Workers Cool on Britain


For job seekers from countries that joined the EU in 2004, a weaker currency and rising unemployment make Britain less attractive

The number of job seekers from central and eastern Europe in Britain has fallen to its lowest level since post-communist countries joined the European Union in May 2004, according to fresh figures published by the UK's Home Office on Thursday (21 August),

The UK was one of three western European states which opened its labour market to the newcomers straight after they became EU citizens—along with Ireland and Sweden—with the initial number of workers flowing in hugely exceeding government predictions.

Altogether, more than 875,000 new Europeans have applied to work in the UK over the four years of their countries' EU membership.

But with the weaker pound and higher unemployment, Britain now appears less attractive for job seekers from the "new" member states, with just 40,000 filing applications to register as a work in the UK between April and June 2008.

The erosion of the pound's value has had direct consequences for foreign workers' pay.

Polish migrants used to get 3,565 zlotys for the £500 they typically needed to send home to justify working in the UK. Now this is worth 40 percent less at just over 2,100 zlotys, according to experts quoted by the Financial Times.

But workers from countries such as Poland, Slovakia or the Baltic states have also been put off by the reduction in jobs in sectors such as construction which registered a drop in vacancies of almost 13 percent between May and July.

Similarly, vacancies in restaurants, hotels and shops fell by 9 percent over the same period, according to the government report.

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