Thursday 10 September 2009

Migration questions revisited

On 2 September this blog considered the impact of migration on Northern Ireland's perennial constitutional question, and referred to a NISRA report on the Long-term International Migration Estimates for Northern Ireland (2007-8). In that report an estimate was made that between mid-2007 and mid-2008 there was a net in-migration of 'third country' migrants of around 4,400, which comprised in-migration of 15,400 and out-migration of 11,000. The blog commented that it would be easy to see how the recession might tip the balance in the opposite direction, but that we would have to wait for any evidence to emerge.

By pure coincidence, less than one week later, the BBC published a study on Migration and the Global Recession.

The report provides partial answers to some of the questions raised in the blog. For instance, the blog asked, concerning the migrants from countries outside of Britain and Ireland:"Will they stay?" The report provides some evidence that they will not stay.

The report notes that, particularly for A8 migrants, migration is "temporary and circular (involving several trips, sometimes on a seasonal basis); and characterized by uncertainty about the duration of stay".

Significantly the report states that "the United Kingdom has witnessed a rapid turnover of workers from the eight Eastern European countries that joined the European Union in 2004 (referred to as the A8 countries) and a significant dropoff in A8 immigration — particularly from Poland."

In fact, in the UK, of the 1.4 million A8 migrants recorded between 2004 and 2008, "approximately half had returned home as of the end of 2008".

It is unlikely that A8 migrants in Northern Ireland would differ much from their compatriots in Britain, so it is likely that they too are temporary, and likely to have returned home in the same proportions.

So the impact of A8 migration on Northern Irish society may turn out to be less than anticipated, and by the time of the next Census (2011) the numbers of A8 migrants may have dropped to quite low levels. As the earlier blog gloomily predicted, "if the recession leads to the return of net emigration then perhaps the parties will forget about the incomers again". This appears to be now likely to happen and thus Northern Ireland's parties will probably now shelve plans to modernise in order to attract voters not primarily motivated by the dreary steeples.

More's the pity.

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