Examining the Socioeconomic Inclusion of Migrant EU Workers

Man watching subway train go past


The freedom of movement of EU workers is one of the four freedoms on which the EU's Single Market is based, alongside freedom of movement of goods, capital and services. Since 2004, the year the European Union (EU) expanded from 15 to 28 Member States, the scope of mobility for people within the EU has increased substantially.

In this context, the overall purpose of this study was to investigate, through case studies, the challenges and opportunities for the economic and social inclusion of migrant EU workers in four cities across the EU: Leeds (UK), Frankfurt (Germany), Rotterdam (Netherlands) and Milan (Italy). This report presents the findings of the Leeds case study.

Our findings aim to inform the ongoing debate – at the local, national and European level – on intra-EU labour mobility. In the UK, this debate is focused on the principle of free movement of EU citizens, and issues related to the integration of migrants and social cohesion. Our research provides concrete examples of challenges and opportunities related to the inclusion of newly arrived EU migrants at the local level in Leeds.


Social inclusion is a process which affords citizens the necessary opportunities and resources to fully participate in economic, cultural and social life. Over the past ten years, the European Union has undergone significant expansion leading to increased scope for the movement of people from one Member State to another. In this context, the question of inclusion of migrants has become more salient, especially in light of the current financial crisis and the growing political mood surrounding immigration.

The freedom of movement of people is at the crux of European integration. The principle of social inclusion should also allow for people to enjoy a standard of living consistent with what is considered normal in the society in which they reside. Further, social inclusion relates to social cohesion in which all members of society are drawn together to become more active members of society.

Many migrants participate in the labour market, enrol in education and training, and participate in arts and leisure activities as well as integrating into the community through membership in sports clubs or religious groups.


The project relied on four case studies from cities across the European Union: Leeds (UK), Frankfurt (Germany), Rotterdam (Netherlands) and Milan (Italy). Each of these cities was selected because it has received large numbers of migrant EU workers since 2000. This project aimed to examine the specific barriers to and facilitators of economic and social inclusion of EU migrant workers. Research efforts included analysing secondary data and conducting surveys, interviews and workshops with key stakeholders.


EU Migrants in Leeds

The UK is the country with the second largest number of EU migrants after Germany. Leeds, with nearly 15,000 employed EU migrants (as recorded in 2011 Census data), has the second biggest population of employed EU migrants in the UK. Our research found that:

  • Migrants from EU countries constitute 3.2 per cent of the Leeds population (2011 Census data). Migrants from Central and Eastern European countries make up the largest numbers of EU migrants. However, a visible increase in the number of migrants coming from southern European countries, such as Spain, Italy and Portugal, has been noted in the last few years.
  • Migrants from EU-10 and EU-2 are relatively young, with 76 per cent being aged 16 to 49 at the time of 2011 census. Migrants coming from the EU-15 countries were more equally spread across age groups, with the exception of Irish migrants, who tend to be older.
  • EU-15 migrants have similar activity patterns to the UK-born population: around 64–66 per cent of them were economically active. The share of the economically active population was much greater for the EU-10 and EU-2 migrants at 79 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the economically active British and EU migrant population are employed.
  • EU migrants are well educated compared with the local population in Leeds. However, data on occupation levels indicate a skills mismatch as qualifications do not match the employment profiles of many migrants.

Challenges and opportunities for the economic and social inclusion of EU migrants in Leeds

Our research identified a number of opportunities created for and by EU migrants in Leeds.

  • From the perspective of migrant EU workers, migration to Leeds provides professional and economic opportunities. Migrants arrive for economic reasons and to find jobs in the local labour market. After meeting certain requirements, EU migrants gain access to some social benefits. However, our research suggests that social benefits do not create important incentives for migrants to come to Leeds. Use of benefits among migrants is largely limited to childcare. Migrant EU workers do make use of local infrastructure and a wide range of services, and this can be seen by migrants as an opportunity. Migrants contribute to the local economy and their different cultures increase the diversity of Leeds.
  • For local workers and from a broader local community perspective, this increased diversity creates opportunities to establish new businesses and to learn about other cultures and languages. Finally, migrant EU workers create potential economic benefits for the local economy. Firstly, migrant EU workers fill job vacancies for local employers and, secondly they create new businesses and new jobs in Leeds.

There are also some challenges resulting from the arrival of EU migrants to Leeds.

  • One of the key challenges for migrant EU workers is skills mismatch: being employed in jobs below their qualifications and skills level. This can result from several factors: insufficient local recognition of qualifications acquired in migrants’ home countries, low levels of English language skills and willingness to take jobs that are not commensurate with their skills. Our study also found that some migrants might be working in poor conditions and are rarely offered training. However, there is limited evidence that this experience is very different from local workers.
  • Some study participants reported incidents of being harassed, in particular at work, because of their immigrant background. Accessing quality affordable housing can also be seen as a possible challenge for the health and well-being of migrant EU workers and their families. Our research found that socio-economic status can determine the extent to which migrants are able to access leisure facilities, and this can create challenges for EU workers’ social participation in Leeds.
  • From the perspective of local workers, our study found that some British workers appear to perceive migrants as providing competition for jobs, with possible tensions between local and migrant workers in the workplace arising due to differences in work culture and motivations.
  • For local service providers, migrant EU workers increase pressures on services in terms of access and maintenance of quality. The preparedness of local services to meet the particular needs of the EU migrant population can be also perceived by service providers as a challenge.

These challenges and opportunities can be affected and overcome by various initiatives and activities with the aim of facilitating inclusion, implemented at the local, regional and national level.


Based on our research, we can draw lessons learned from Leeds’ example on aspects that seem to be important when planning and implementing initiatives for migrant EU workers and their families:

  • Identify and recognise the diversity of migrants, and establish contact with relevant migrant groups. Since migrants organise themselves through a wide range of groups and organisations, these organisations providing services to migrant communities should make use of a variety of approaches to engage with migrants.
  • Use several communication channels to inform migrants about services, how to access them and what additional support is available.
  • Tailor services to migrant needs. Service providers should not assume that approaches and initiatives that work for one migrant community will be equally suitable for other migrant groups. Service providers should assess how appropriate and useful initiatives are for particular migrant groups, and tailor services accordingly.
  • Recognise the importance of English language skills. Learning English is an important step towards socio-economic integration of migrants. While for many migrants English language skills improve over time, there are still some groups of migrants who might need additional language support.
  • Address skills mismatch. Many EU migrants are employed in jobs requiring skills below their qualification and education levels and this skills mismatch can potentially have negative consequences for individual workers, employers and the local (and national) economy. Migrants should be provided with better opportunities to have their skills recognised by employers. Enterprises and local educational providers also share responsibility in offering opportunities for workplace learning and continued adult education and training to ensure that skills mismatches are addressed.
  • Working together to ensure efficiency in services provision is important. The coordinated work of various actors involved in service delivery can benefit migrants as well as service providers.
  • Ensure sustainability of services offered to and by EU migrants. Local authorities and other service providers should work closely with migrant organisations to best use their potential and ensure continuity of their services. Close monitoring of demands for specific services and implementation of adequate measures to support service providers would strengthen service provision.
  • Use available data to identify service demands in the future. Relevant public authorities should closely monitor migration trends as well as the socio-demographic profile of migrants in order to adequately assess future service demands and to ensure sufficient services supply.
  • The changing migration landscape has an impact on migrant needs. EU migrants’ rights and access to services depends on their length of stay in hosting countries. Therefore, it is important to remember that migrants’ information and support needs, their plans and expectations also change with the duration of their stay. In order to meet migrants’ needs, agencies delivering local services should account for these changing needs and cater for changing demands.


The EC DG-EMPL has released a Synthesis Report: Socio-economic inclusion of migrant EU workers in 4 cities. RAND Europe contributed to this report as well as to the city reports on Frankfurt and Leeds.