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Press release

  • 31 May 2007

Reports reveal migrant view of ‘polite but distant’ Britain

The experiences of migrants from East Europe - and the impact they have on communities in the UK - are highlighted in two reports by University of Sussex migration researchers published this week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

The first report, Migrants' lives beyond the workplace: the experiences of Central and East Europeans in the UK, is based on research by academics from the University of Oxford and Dr Ben Rogaly, a senior lecturer in human geography and a member of the Centre for Migration Research at the University of Sussex.

The second report, East European immigration and community cohesion, is by Eugenia Markova, a former research fellow at the Centre, and Professor Richard Black, the Centre's Co-Director.

Poor pay and prospects, a lack of information and social mobility and a "polite but distant" reception from the resident British were the common experiences of the migrants interviewed for the two studies.

The findings were commissioned by the JRF for its Immigration and Inclusion programme, which seeks to provide evidence of what is happening in local areas affected by immigration - from the perspective of both newcomers and long-term residents.

The first report is based on interviews with over 600 migrants from East and Central Europe working in four low-wage occupations in the UK. It explores their access to information and to English classes, their accommodation, leisure time, social relationships and long-term intentions about staying in the UK. The report reveals:

  • Migrants' experiences at work, including low pay and long working hours, had a significant impact on their lives beyond the workplace;
  • A lack of practical information on arrival left many migrants ignorant of the conditions attached to their immigration status, how to access health care, where to obtain advice and their rights at work;
  • English language proficiency was a key factor in whether migrants had received the information they needed and the extent of their social contact with British people.

The second study profiles new immigrants from five Eastern European countries living in the London Boroughs of Harrow and Hackney and the City of Brighton and Hove. It explores how the presence of these new immigrants (from Albania, Bulgaria, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro and Ukraine) affects community cohesion. The study involved questionnaire surveys with 388 new immigrants and 402 long-term residents in the same neighbourhoods. It found that:

  • Generally, the immigrants interviewed were in the UK to work and had been very successful in finding employment, but in low-paid work with limited occupational mobility;
  • When asked about 'sense of belonging', only a minority of immigrants felt they belonged to their neighbourhood (half as many as long-term residents), despite feeling they belonged to the UK as a whole;
  • Immigrants' sense of belonging to the neighbourhood was positively affected by better housing status, length of time in the UK, plans to stay in the UK; and having their children living with them.

Both reports on East European migration make a strong case for including economic migrants in social and community cohesion strategies, even when their stay is expected to be temporary. Such measures would include better access to practical information, better access to English classes, an appreciation of migrant needs in the wider context of affordable housing and action to address relations between migrants and the wider population.

Professor Black says: "The arrival of East European immigrants in Britain is often portrayed in the press as a big problem, but these reports paint a more positive picture. Nonetheless, there is scope for government action to maximise the benefit of this immigration both for the migrants themselves, and for the communities they are living in."

Notes for editors

  • Migrants' lives beyond the workplace: the experiences of Central and East Europeans in the UK by Sarah Spencer, Martin Ruhs, Bridget Anderson from the University of Oxford; and Ben Rogaly, University of Sussex. East European immigration and community cohesion by Eugenia Markova and Richard Black from the University of Sussex. Both published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is one of the largest social policy research and development charities in the UK. It supports a research and development programme that seeks to understand the causes of social difficulties and explore ways of overcoming them. See
  • For further information on the Centre for Migration Research, see
University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune or Jacqui Bealing, tel: 01273 678 888 or email

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