Public Release: 

Everybody wins from short term eastern European migration

Economic & Social Research Council

Despite current concerns in the UK about working conditions and breaches of safety standards in agriculture involving eastern European migrants, there is conclusive evidence that others in different occupations are benefiting from short term employment opportunities. As part of research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, almost 200 Slovakian migrants were interviewed on returning home about their experiences in Britain. Virtually all believed their period abroad had been worthwhile.

Those questioned included: professionals and managers; students; and au pairs, the majority of whom felt that the most important positive effect was returning home with enhanced social skills, self confidence, and networking and language competencies. The research, carried out by Professor Allan Williams of the University of Exeter, also highlighted that all three groups of migrants were equally positive that their UK experiences had led to better jobs and higher salaries in Slovakia. Even au pairs, whose jobs had been largely confined to household and care duties, spoke strongly of the economic benefits that had resulted from work in the UK.

Most of the migrants interviewed had spent a relatively short time in the UK, from just over six months to almost eleven months on average. As a consequence, a steep learning curve in the acquisition of skills, competencies and knowledge had taken place, most of which occurred through informal learning opportunities. Based on self-assessment, another sign of the positive impact of their short time in the UK was that migrants had a strong interest in permanently working abroad in future.

"Our studies provide evidence to support the view that short term migration represents a win-win for migrants, the UK and Slovakia," said Professor Williams. "Overall, Britain benefits from the work undertaken, the migrants gain skills and competencies of economic value, and Slovakia acquires a workforce with enhanced capabilities and knowledge."

All three groups of migrants in the study were motivated more by cultural and English language goals, than by acquiring specific qualifications or job experience. Detrimentally, graduate migration had an estimated negative impact on Slovakia's GDP of about 0.6 per cent annually, but this was partially offset by individuals sending money home. As migrations were only for a relatively short period, there were constraints on the amount of savings built up by an individual while in the UK. Such savings were used as a financial buffer against future needs once back in Slovakia, rather than being a source of business investment or for use in house purchase.

"Short term migration is contributing to the shift in the Slovakian economy that is in transition from state socialism to a market economy," said Professor Williams. "We found that, on their return, many migrants considered that public sector employers didn't reward their newly acquired social skills, self confidence, networking capabilities and language competence. As a result, they moved into private sector employment where they were valued. Short term migration is helping to lubricate the economic transition in Slovakia."

Modelling, that compares the numbers of university graduates with the numbers remaining in the labour market, was also carried out as part of the project. It suggested that Slovakia experienced an annual average loss of 7,186 graduates in the last decade, representing approximately 37 per cent of the annual increase in graduates.

"Although at first sight this represents a startling 'brain drain', the positive experiences of those returning suggests the overall effect is moderated by migrants' learning experiences and the knowledge transfer."



Professor Allan Williams, Tel: 01392 263337, 01392 250246 or Email:

Or Iain Stewart, Lesley Lilley or Becky Gammon at ESRC, on 01793 413032/413119/413122


1) The research report 'Skilled Labour Mobility: Returned Migrants from Slovakia to the UK' was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Professor Allan Williams is at the Department of Geography, University of Exeter, Amory Building, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4RJ.

2) Three types of data and information were used in the project: migration, education and employment data in the UK and Slovakia; 186 interviews with returned migrants (64 professionals/managers, 55 students and 67 au pairs) that established different individual experiences; and interviews with key informants involved with migration and economic policies. In addition, a model was developed to estimate the number of graduate migrants from Slovakia and the economic loss this represented.

3) The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £93million every year in social science and at any time is supporting some 2,000 researchers in academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences to nurture the researchers of tomorrow. More at

4) REGARD is the ESRC's database of research. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at


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