Case study

Migrant employment during the 'Great Recession'

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Author: Demetrios G Papademetriou, Migration Policy Institute, Washington DC, Madeleine Sumption and Aaron Terrazas

Date: 12 January 2012

Type of case study: Research

About the research

The issues of immigration, the economy and the state of unemployment have remained topical, and sometimes controversial, in our society as we recover from the economic downturn of the late 2000s. This is sometimes referred to as the 'Great Recession' to play on the connotations with the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 2010, two years after the economic downturn began, researchers at the independent think tank Migration Policy Institute (MPI) published a study on the state of (un)employment amongst immigrant communities in seven western nations. The study aimed to show how differences in immigration policies, labour structures and the communities themselves were impacting the way immigrants were experiencing the effects of the 'Great Recession'. When investigating the situation in the UK they turned to large-scale government data hosted by UK Data Service. Immigrants to the UK usually have a higher unemployment rate on average than workers born in the UK, and the research showed that in contrast to other countries studied, the recession did not appear to cause this gap to widen. But employment levels differed widely between the UK's immigrant groups. Recent immigrants from Eastern Europe, who had a high rate of employment prior to the recession, fared best. However, the study found that other immigrant groups such as those from Pakistan and Bangladesh saw large unemployment increases, as did immigrants who speak a language other than English at home. The findings indicate that those groups that entered the recession on a good footing weathered its effects well, while those who were in poorer positions going in did badly once the recession hit.

About the data

Data from 25 datasets of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) were used covering the period from the first quarter of 2004 to the first quarter of 2010. The LFS is a quarterly survey of UK households conducted by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in order to collect data on the labour market and provide official measures of employment and unemployment. Respondents are asked about their employment status, wages and hours of work (if employed), and many other personal characteristics (such as ethnicity, education, health etc.).


Microdata from the Labour Force Survey was used to produce the UK case study by measuring the level of unemployment amongst immigrants compared to UK born populations. The variable 'country of birth' was used to distinguish the general immigrant population from the UK born, and then 'ethnicity' to distinguish groups within the general immigrant population. As the 2006 and 2009 surveys included a variable distinguishing the language spoken at home, these were included for studying those periods. Variables highlighting the immigrants' use of welfare benefits were used briefly as well.

Publications and outputs

Papademetriou, D. G., Sumption, M., Terrazas, A., Burkert, C., Loyal, S. and Ferrero-Turrion, R. (2010) Migration and immigrants two years after the financial collapse: Where do we stand? (Migration Policy Institute report for the BBC World Service), Retrieved 11 September 2013 from

Papademetriou, D. G., Sumption, M. and Terrazas, A. (2011) Migration and the Great Recession: The transatlantic experience, Washington DC: Migration Policy Institute.

The findings also received media coverage:

Plummer, R. (8 October 2010) 'Migrants feel recession aftermath', BBC News [Web version]. Retrieved 11 September 2013 from

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