On June 23, British citizens will vote whether their country should leave or remain in the European Union. Millions of them plan to cut their ties to the EU to escape the high immigration policies that have economically harmed average workers and taxpayers.
EU agreements allow laborers from across Europe to easily obtain work permits in the United Kingdom. And since there are better job opportunities in the UK than in many less prosperous EU countries, a net total of about 2 million EU citizens have immigrated to the island nation. Last year alone, net migration from the EU to the UK hit an all-time record, at roughly 185,000 people.
These EU citizens directly compete with British workers for jobs. The percentage of immigrants in the UK workforce has more than doubled since 1993, the year the EU was created.
Lesser-skilled British workers have borne the brunt of this competition for a limited supply of jobs. For instance, from 2002 to 2014, the share of immigrants working in low-skill “process operation” jobs, such as food production at factories, increased from 8.5 percent to 32 percent.
With plenty of workers desperate for jobs, employers have no incentive to pay workers higher wages. Wage growth for workers in the UK has declined precipitously since 2004, when the UK began admitting immigrants from low-wage Eastern European nations. In fact, since 2008, wages have actually declined about 5 percent after accounting for inflation.
British taxpayers haven’t escaped the negative consequences of high immigration from EU countries. The British government doled out about 2.5 billion pounds, or $3.7 billion, in tax credits to low-wage EU immigrants from 2013 to 2014.
American workers and taxpayers have suffered similarly on this side of the Atlantic, due to the United States taking in about 1.25 million immigrants per year. Despite rising worker productivity, real hourly wages for low-skilled workers fell five percent from 1979 to 2013.
High immigration policies hold down wages by increasing competition for jobs. And they import many people who can’t support themselves financially, straining government budgets. On both sides of the pond, workers and taxpayers would be better served by reducing immigration.