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Mixed attitudes towards migration and migrant workers in NI

74 per cent of people in Northern Ireland welcome the fact other EU citizens can live and work in the region, but many are also worried about the additional strain this places on service provision.

The figures come from the 2006 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, undertaken by ARK, a joint research initiative between Queen’s University, Belfast, and the University of Ulster.

Tomorrow, (Tuesday, 11 March), Dr Chris Gilligan from Aston University, Birmingham will examine the survey’s findings, which have revealed people in Northern Ireland have mixed feelings about the rights of Eastern European migrants to live here, the contribution they make to society, and the strain they place on public services.

While almost three quarters of people (74 per cent) welcomed the fact other European Union (EU) citizens are free to live and work here, a similar proportion (73 per cent), felt the government should have placed restrictions on immigration from those Eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004.

Strain on services

Many people thought the growth in numbers of migrant workers had put a strain on public services. 44 per cent thought the needs of migrant workers were putting a strain on schools. A majority (51 per cent) thought the number of migrant workers was leading to a shortage of local housing and a higher proportion (60 per cent) thought a strain was being put on the Health Service.

Positive contribution

The mixed feelings were evident in the fact many people also recognised the positive contribution migrant workers make to Northern Ireland. Over eight in ten (83 per cent) thought it was good migrant workers come to Northern Ireland to work as doctors and nurses when there is a shortage of medical staff. Two-thirds (67 per cent) thought migrant workers make Northern Ireland open to new ideas and cultures.

Dr Gilligan said: “The figures provide a very mixed picture of attitudes towards migrant workers. Clearly there are concerns about a strain being put on public services. The mixed responses to questions, however, means it is not so clear whether people in Northern Ireland blame the government or migrant workers for the strain on services.

“The fact that a significant majority of people think migrant workers make Northern Ireland more open to new ideas and cultures suggests that government might be better to shift the emphasis of policy away from cultural diversity awareness training and instead focus on the question of service provision.”


Ambivalence towards migrant workers is also evident on questions regarding jobs. Almost half (48 per cent) thought migrant workers take jobs away from people who were born in Northern Ireland. But more (80 per cent) thought migrant workers mostly take up jobs Northern Irish workers don’t want. And even more (85 per cent) thought employers take on migrant workers because they are prepared to work for lower wages than local workers.

Professor Robert Miller from Queen’s, Deputy Director of ARK, said: “These findings are being published as part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Festival of Social Science 2008, a week of public events taking place throughout the UK to display the breadth of social science research. This is the only ESRC Festival event to take place in Northern Ireland, and it fits well with the ARK Project’s outreach work. The research report will be published in English, Polish, Lithuanian, Cantonese and Portuguese to make them as accessible as possible to the migrant population.”

Full results of all the questions from the 2006 Life and Times Survey are available on the website on as is the Migration and Migrant Workers in Northern Ireland report, at

Notes for editor
1. The report on Migration and Migrant Workers in Northern Ireland will be presented by Dr Chris Gilligan at the ESRC Festival Seminar at 12noon on Tuesday 11 March at NICVA (Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action), 61 Duncairn Gardens, Belfast. The seminar is organised by ARK and is open to the media.

2. Requests to interview Dr Gilligan should be directed to Queen’s Press and PR Unit (details below). Dr Gilligan will be available for interview immediately following the seminar at approximately 1.15pm - 1.45pm.

3. The Life and Times Survey is a constituent part of ARK ( which makes social and political material based on Northern Ireland available to the widest possible audience. ARK is a joint research project between Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Ulster.

4. The migrant worker questions on the 2006 Life and Times survey were funded by the Research Branch of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Lisa Mitchell | alfa
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