Polish Plumbers: Handsome and Good for the Economy?
From the BBC: The “Polish Plumber” was the catch-phrase of the French “Non” referendum on the constitution, and later became a tongue-in-cheek slogan for the Polish tourist board.
Out of all the arguments against immigration, economic fears – from “natives” losing their jobs to wage depression – seems like one of the more reasonable “anti” arguments, especially when compared other arguments that touch on racism and xenophobia.
Thanks to the recent EU Enlargement, the world had a chance to have a sample lab on immigration: 1) England, Ireland and Sweden who let in EU Central/Eastern Europeans 2) The rest of the EU, fearing “Polish Plumbers”, did not
It turns out the doomsayers were partly right: Nearly a year and a half after the expansion of the European Union, floods of East Europeans have washed into Britain.
Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians and other Easterners are arriving at an average rate of 16,000 a month, a result of Britain’s decision to allow unlimited access to the citizens of the eight East European countries that joined the EU last year.
They work as bus drivers, farmhands and dentists, as waitresses, builders, and saleswomen; they are transforming parts of London into Slavic and Baltic enclaves where pickles and Polish beer are stacked in delicatessens and Polish can be heard on the streets almost as often as English.
But the doomsayers were also wrong: Multicultural Britain has absorbed these workers like a sponge. Unemployment is still rock-bottom at 4.7 percent, and economic growth continues apace.
Since May 2004, more than 230,000 East Europeans have registered to work in Britain, many more than the government expected, in what is shaping up to be one of the great migrations of recent decades.
Yet the government says it still has shortages of 600,000 workers in fields like nursing and construction.
“They are coming in and making a very good reputation as highly skilled, highly motivated workers,” said Christopher Thompson, a diplomat at the British Embassy in Warsaw. “The U.K. is pleased with the way it’s progressed over the first 16 months, and we’re confident it will be a beneficial relationship for both sides in the future.”
Tens of thousands of East Europeans have also moved to Ireland and Sweden, the only other West European countries that opened their labor markets to the new EU members. (Emphasis mine)
This is, of course, in contrast with France and their African and Arab immigration, which as the world has seen has been a disaster.
What this means is that the right domestic policies (England, Ireland and Sweden are more open labor market) and the right type of immigrant works (The immigrants are generally well educated) can have a positive effect on the economy.
Obvious, yes. But in any discussion of illegal/legal immigration – from US to Botswana – the idea that the right immigrant policies can have a positive effects to the economic and naiton as a whole gets quickly lost behind blind arguments about multiculturalism or xenophobia.
PS: Virginia Postrel argues in the NY Times that the wave immigration to the US in the 90s actually led to a wage increase: “Over time, immigrant workers don’t just fill existing job openings. In aggregate, they add to the total resources available for economic growth, making new capital investment more profitable and native-born labor more potentially productive.”