Research Programme

International labour mobility – the changing patterns of recruitment and employment of Central and East European migrants working in England and Scotland

Allan FindlayDavid McCollum

Project summary


This project explored labour market aspects of East-Central European migration to the UK, specifically A8 recruitment and employment patterns and how these changed between 2004 and the current recession. Since the accession of the A8 countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary and Estonia) to the European Union, citizens from these countries have had the right to freely participate in the British labour market. As a consequence of significant disparities in earning potential, large numbers of A8 migrants have come to the UK, with nationals from these states constituting some of the largest foreign-born populations in the country.


The research involved 70 interviews with labour providers (recruitment agencies) and users (employers) of migrant labour in the hospitality, food production and processing sectors across four UK study sites. This perspective was innovative since few have previously attempted to analytically represent and interpret the diversity of recruitment/employment regimes that exist in relation to rural migrant labour. The analysis of the interviews in relation to the typology highlighted the significance of employer and recruitment-led practices in continually shaping and reshaping (producing) migration geographies. The UK interviews were complemented with further interviews with policymakers, recruitment agencies and employers in Latvia. This involved an exploration of the labour recruitment channels that shape labour migration flows from Latvia and how they are influenced by perceptions of the desirable qualities of the ‘ideal’ migrant worker. Intermediaries such as labour providers, the state and informal social networks were shown to exert considerable influence on the nature of labour migration flows from Latvia.


The research also investigated spatial, sectoral and temporal data from the Worker Registration Scheme (WRS). This showed that A8 migrants serve particular ‘functions’ in the UK, producing distinctive geographies of immigration.  Of particular interest was how the recession influenced these trends. The main findings show how migrant labour is perceived and represented by UK employers. Theorisation of the knowledge practices of recruiters sheds new light on how cultural and social processes ‘produce’ and ‘reproduce’ migration geographies. Most A8 migrants work in the hospitality and agriculture sectors and through recruitment agencies. Migrant labour is particularly significant in the agribusiness industry, where demand for A8 workers has remained steady relative to sectors such as construction. These conclusions lead to the supposition that agribusiness is distinctive in terms of the way that migrant labour has become a necessary condition for the successful intensification of production that has taken place (Rogaly, 2008). Analysis of the research evidence resulted in a new typology of recruitment and employment practices and a dynamic model of their spatial impacts. The discourse relating to why East European migrants are desired/required in the UK labour market broadly supported a cultural economy perspective. Clearly in some senses migrant workers are ‘produced’ by this discourse that not only reveals interesting contradictions about the nature of ‘embodied transnationalism’ (Dunn, 2010), but also suggests that migrants themselves perform various self-regulating practices to conform to perceived social norms (Mansfield, 2000). Thus the research project provided evidence not only that idealised images of the ‘good worker’ (Scott et al, 2008) influence who is recruited for employment in the UK, but also that migrants self-regulate in a way that reinforces these social practices. 



Findlay, A. and McCollum, D. (2010) ‘International labour mobility – the changing patterns of recruitment & employment of Central & East European migrants working in England & Scotland’ The Scottish Government, Victoria Quay, 23 April 2010.

Findlay, A., McCollum, D., Shubin, S., Apsite, E. and Krisjane, Z. (2013) ‘The role of recruitment agencies in imagining and producing the ‘good’ migrant’. Social and Cultural Geography, 14, (2), 145-167.

McCollum, D., Apsite-Berina, E., Berzins, M. and Krisjane, Z. (2016) Overcoming the Crisis: The Changing Profile and Trajectories of Latvian migrantsJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 43 (9), 1508-1525.

McCollum, D. and Findlay, A. (2015) ‘Flexible’ workers for ‘flexible’ jobs? The labour market function of A8 migrant labour in the UK. Work, Employment and Society, 29, (3), 427-443.

Shubin, S., Findlay, A and McCollum, D. (2014) Imaginaries of the ideal migrant worker: a Lancanian interpretation. Environment and Planning D, 32 (3), 466-483.


Media activities

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