Changing status, changing lives? The socio-economic impact of EU Enlargement on low wage migrant labour in the UK March 2004 – May 2005


This research project was motivated by the accession of the “A8” countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) to the European Union on 1 May 2004. Among the member states of the pre-enlarged EU, only Sweden, Ireland and the UK granted A8 nationals free access to the labour market immediately upon EU enlargement. This research aimed to study the consequences of granting most of the economic and social rights of an EU national to A8 nationals who were already working, either legally or illegally, in the UK before accession.

Research focused on the employment of migrants in four sectors: agriculture, construction, hospitality and au pairs. Four A8 nationalities were selected for study on the basis of their prominence in the UK’s legal schemes for employing migrants in low-wage occupations: Czech, Slovak, Lithuanian and Polish. Ukrainian and Bulgarian migrants were selected to act as a comparison group of people whose immigrations status would not change as a result of the 2004 EU enlargement.

The research generated two reports. The first looks at the implications for the labour market and the work experiences of Central and East European migrants in the UK; the second explores the experiences of these migrants beyond the workplace. Findings make a strong case for reviewing national policy towards new migrants in the UK, taking into account the challenges they face, particularly in the immediate period after arrival, and the experiences of the organisations and the public with whom they interact.

Principal Investigator

Bridget Anderson


Martin Ruhs
Sarah Spencer
Ben Rogaly (University of Sussex)


Economic and Social Research Council
Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Professionals' Advisory Group

Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex

News & Media

The price of cheap labour
7 Oct 2010 | The Guardian (opinion piece by Bridget Anderson and Martin Ruhs




European UnionGenderLabour MarketsLow Skilled Migration




The project drew on labour segmentation theory, and traced ‘system effects’, examining how institutional and regulatory frameworks of the labour market and wider public policies effectively produce certain types of domestic labour shortages.


The project worked at formulating an interactive methodology drawing on quantitative (survey) and qualitative (in-depth interviews and diaries) methods. Both survey and in-depth interviews were exploratory and contemporaneous, and, when applied to migrants, were conducted in the interviewees’ mother tongue. The full study included a survey and in-depth interviews with over 600 migrants (some without permission to work in the UK), diaries kept by migrants, interviews with employers and au pair host families, and interviews with policy-makers and service providers. Most interviews were carried out in two waves, in April 2004 (just before EU enlargement) and six to eight months later.


The interdependence between labour demand and supply, and the effects of dynamic regulatory, institutional and policy systems that produce domestic labour shortages are key to understanding employer demand for (migrant) labour during economic growth and crisis. They have important but rarely discussed implications for the analysis of staff shortages and indeed for immigration and public policy more generally.


This research informed the first report of the Migration Advisory Committee of September 2008 and its analysis helped to shape the shortage occupation list of the Points Based System. Work on demand for migrant labour has been consistently cited within media and has impacted public policy debates in the UK. Ruhs and Anderson produced a Migration Observatory policy primer based on the book. The primer was covered in the press, including being cited in the Financial Times and discussed in an interview with Mark Easton on the BBC’s 6 O’clock news. Ruhs and Anderson also published an opinion piece in the Guardian. Research on demand has had considerable impact outside the UK.