Analysing the costs and benefits of immigration. Photo: Getty
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Yes, EU immigrants do have a positive impact on public finances

The academics behind a study that shows EU migrants make a net contribution to our economy on the positive impact of recent immigrants.

The impact of immigration on Britain’s tax and welfare system is perhaps the most important economic issue in the debate over the country’s relationship with the EU and its principle of free movement. There are claims that immigrants from Europe take advantage of the UK’s benefit and health system. This has led to political pressure to limit immigrants' access to benefits and public services and even restrict immigration from the European Economic Area countries.

But, despite the controversy surrounding this issue, evidence for how much immigrants take out of and contribute to the public purse in Britain is surprisingly sparse. Our new research published by the Royal Economic Society in the Economic Journal aims to fill this void.

Based on the UK Labour Force Survey and a multitude of government sources, we calculate the overall fiscal contribution of native Britons and immigrants. Our findings show that European immigrants to the UK have paid more in taxes than they received in benefits, helping to relieve the fiscal burden on UK-born workers and contributing to the financing of public services.

To do this, we assign individuals their share of cost for each item of government expenditure. We then identify their contribution to each source of government revenue. We distinguish between immigrants from the European Economic Area (EEA), and those from outside Europe. Additionally, we break down the EEA group into immigrants from the Eastern and Central European countries that joined the EU since 2004 (known as A10 countries), and immigrants from the rest of EEA.
 

Positive net contribution

Our findings show that immigrants to the UK who arrived since 2000, and for whom we observe their entire migration history, have made consistently positive fiscal contributions regardless of their area of origin. Between 2001 and 2011 recent immigrants from the A10 countries contributed to the fiscal system about 12 per cent more than they took out, with a net fiscal contribution of about £5bn.

At the same time the overall fiscal contributions of recent European immigrants from the rest of the EU totalled £15bn, with fiscal payments about 64 per cent higher than the value of public services they used. Immigrants from outside the EU countries made a net fiscal contribution of about £5.2bn, thus paying into the system about 3 per cent more than they took out.

In contrast, over the same period, native British people made an overall negative fiscal contribution of £616.5bn. The fiscal balance of overall immigration to the UK between 2001 and 2011 amounts therefore to a positive net contribution of about £25bn, over a period in which the UK has run an overall budget deficit.

Our analysis thus suggests that immigrants arriving since the early 2000s from Europe have made a net contribution to Britain’s public finances. This is a reality that contrasts starkly with the view often maintained in public debate that immigrants are a drain on the economy.
 

State benefits

This conclusion is further supported by our evidence on the degree to which immigrants receive tax credits and benefits compared with natives. Recent immigrants are 43 per cent (17 percentage points) less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits. These differences are partly attributable to the fact that immigrants are generally working-age men and coming to the UK to work. However, even when compared with natives of the same age, gender composition and education, recent immigrants are still 39 per cent less likely than natives to receive benefits.

Additionally, our research points at the strong educational background of immigrants. For instance, while the percentage of natives with a degree was 24 per cent in 2011, that of EEA and non-EEA immigrants was 35 per cent and 41 per cent, respectively. Similarly, about one in two British born individuals fall into the “low education” category (defined as those who left full-time education before 17), while only 21 per cent of EEA immigrants and 23 per cent of non-EEA immigrants do so.

Most immigrants arrive in the UK after completing their education abroad, and thus at a point in their lifetime where the discounted net value of their future net fiscal payments is positive. If the UK had to provide each immigrant with the level of education they have acquired in their home country (and use productively in the UK, as natives do), the costs would be substantial.

Our estimates indicate that recent immigrants endowed Britain with productive human capital between 2000 and 2011 that would have cost £6.8bn in spending on education. This aspect is often neglected in the debate about the costs and benefits of immigration.
 

Christian Dustmann is director at the Centre for Research and Analysis on Migration (CReAM) at University College London; Tommaso Frattini is assistant professor of economics at the University of Milan

Christian Dustmann receives funding from European Research Council (ERC). Tommaso Frattini does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.