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On the move? Labour migration in times of recession

On the move? Labour migration in times of recession

Janet Dobson, Alan Latham & John Salt

06 July 2009

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On the move middleThis paper aims to provide a context for informed discussion on migration and recession in the UK. It does so by analysing evidence on migration flows during previous economic downturns in the UK and more widely in Europe and considers implications for the present.

It finds that, foreign immigration tends to fall when unemployment rises but only for a limited period, after which it picks up again often before an improvement in the country’s employment situation. Meanwhile, outflows of migrants also tend to fall after an initial rise when those who always intended to return do so. Past recessions have seen increasing numbers of British citizens returning to the UK from abroad, with fewer leaving. As a result, total net immigration is likely to remain more stable than most people think over the course of the current economic downturn.

These trends cast doubt on the validity of “buffer theory,” which posits that migrants return home when the economy of a country contracts, thereby freeing up jobs for the non-immigrant population.

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