British jobs for migrant workers?

Published: 6th Nov 2013

It was Gordon Brown who famously used the phrase "British jobs for British workers" back in 2007. It is now a slogan for the times - while the Coalition has imposed a series of restrictions on foreign migrants, the Labour party has admitted that it failed to control immigration effectively during its period in office.

The Daily Star's claim that "over four million migrants take UK jobs" is partially accurate. The latest Labour Market Statistics show that there are just under 4.4 million foreign-born nationals working in the UK. The number has more than doubled since 1997, when the Office for National Statistics first began to monitor employment "by country of birth or nationality". The increase has been fairly steady over time, with a slight dip during the recession years.

It's worth remembering that 'foreign born' can refer to someone whose birth certificate was issued in a foreign country but who has spent their whole life in the UK, as well as someone who arrived in the UK last week.

Also, many of these migrants have not "taken" jobs that would otherwise have been allocated to British workers. Some migrant entrepreneurs will be self-employed, and others will themselves create jobs for British workers.

The Daily Star goes on to note, "Bosses have blamed poor education standards for forcing them to look overseas to fill one in five vacancies." It turns out the newspaper is focusing on jobs for the highly skilled, quoting a figure that appears in the recently published Perkins report.

Tasked with examining the 'talent pipeline' in UK engineering, Professor Perkins, the government's Chief Scientific Advisor, notes that many sectors of the UK economy currently rely on immigrants. According to his report, they account for "20% of professionals in strategically important sectors".

A strategically important sector is broadly defined as one that contributes disproportionately to the UK economy and involves high levels of innovation. Examples include aerospace manufacturing, the oil and gas industry and computer services.

In fact, the Perkins report isn't the original source of this one in five figure. The statistic first appears in a 2012 study conducted by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research.

According to NIESR, of those employed in the "strategic sector" in 2010, 14.5% were foreign born. (It's worth remembering that foreign born can refer to someone who's birth certificate was issued in a foreign country but who has spent their whole life in the UK, as well as someone who arrived in the UK last week.) However, this number only applies to people employed in the private sector and includes every type of job in the strategically important industries - from machine operators through to senior managers.

Helpfully, NIESR has also produced figures on how many immigrants are in professional jobs in strategically important industries. Of the 629,000 people employed at this level, some 128,000 (20% of them) are non-UK nationals. This is the Daily Star's figure. 

When claiming that employers are looking overseas to fill one in five job vacancies, the Daily Star is making a general statement on the basis of a specific statistic, one that only applies to a certain type of job in one sector of the economy. 

UPDATE - 7 November 2013

The definition of 'foreign born' now appears nearer the top of the article, for the purposes of clarity.

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