Almost 40,000 jobs in Northern Ireland last year were filled by migrant workers who contributed £1.2 billion to the local economy, new research has revealed.
The findings outlined in three reports on migrant workers were published yesterday, days after the latest Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment figures showed that 54,000 people here are claiming unemployment benefits — a 56% increase on last year.
One of the reports, ‘Attitudes to Migrant Workers: Results from the Northern Ireland Omnibus Survey’, said 47% of people felt that migrant workers took jobs away from people who were born in Northern Ireland. Migrants represent a significant share of the workforce, an estimated 37,000 or just under 5% of total people-based employment, according to ‘The Economic, Labour Market and Skills Impact of Migrant Workers in Northern Ireland’ report by Oxford Economics.
But the research also revealed that while local employers would choose to employ a native worker in preference to a migrant given candidates of equal ability, 37% of Northern Ireland employers reported difficulties in recruiting native-born workers to fill vacant positions.
The report said: “These explanations would support the notion that any labour market displacement caused by migrant workers has largely been ‘voluntary’ in nature, with native workers seemingly rejecting the job opportunities on offer in favour of either long-term benefit dependency or ongoing job search.
“This also supports the view that migrants have played a key role in filling labour shortages in the Northern Ireland economy.”
Sectors particularly dependent on migrant workers include parts of the manufacturing sector, construction and the hospitality industry. However, Northern Ireland was one of the UK regions identified as seeing a much lower rate of inflow of migrants than at its peak in 2007.
There has been a 46% fall in the number of migrants with 1,200 coming to the province between October 2008 and March 2009 compared to 2,200 between July 2006 and September 2007.
The highest number of migrant workers are located in Belfast, Dungannon, Craigavon and Newry & Mourne.
The two other reports were undertaken by the Institute for Conflict Research and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).