Brexit and European Migration

When voters in the United Kingdom (UK) went to the polls on June 23, 2016 and voted to leave the European Union (EU), they created two major questions to be resolved: What policies will govern migration between the UK and the remaining 27 EU states? And what policies will govern trade between the two entities? The free movement of people and goods within the EU was the major objection to EU membership by those voting to leave. That June 23rd vote is known as Brexit.

Looming large was the fate of the three million people who had migrated to the UK from other EU countries: Will they be allowed to stay? What will their status be? (See a discussion of these questions in blog post on September 25, 2016.)

Then there is the question of what happens to migrants making that move after June 23rd. The UK didn’t leave the EU on that date. The effective date of its departure from the EU will be sometime in 2019. Will people from other EU countries migrating to the UK between June 23rd and the effective date be allowed to stay? That is yet to be answered.

The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) issued a report on migration for the third quarter of 2016, the first reporting period following Brexit. The number of workers from eight EU countries had increased significantly over the third quarter of 2015. The 46,000 additional workers had come from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. This surge in the number of Eastern Europeans entering the UK for work since Brexit reveals concerns by migrants that they may be barred from entering the UK after the effective date.

Although those favoring Brexit oppose the influx of foreign workers into the UK, economic analyses support the conclusion that welcoming immigrant workers benefits the receiving country. But what about the sending countries?

The eight countries noted above are experiencing serious losses of their most educated populations, according to a July 2016 International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff report. The IMF report compared the education level of emigrants from each country to the education level of the total population of the emigrants’ home country. For example, about 35% of the people leaving Hungary had tertiary education, compared to about 13% of Hungary’s total population. For Czech Republic the corresponding percentages were 28% and 10%; for Poland, 29% and 14%; for Latvia, 38% and 18%; and for Lithuania, 34% and 25%. Emigrating populations were also younger than the populations they left behind.

For the migrants themselves, the IMF report notes outcomes from their moves are positive, improving their own well-being. Their home countries, however, are left with shrinking populations and labor forces, fiscal burdens due to fewer workers supporting increasing numbers of older persons, and less competitive economies.

Brexit proponents look forward to reducing the influx of foreign workers. However, workers are likely to continue migrating to other Western European countries of the EU seeking new opportunities. Push and pull are strong: The Economist recently reported that a third of Latvia’s college students graduating between 2002 and 2009 had emigrated by 2014, and 80-90% of Bulgarian medical students plan to emigrate after graduating.

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