E.g., 04/17/2024
E.g., 04/17/2024
Benign Neglect? Policies to Support Upward Mobility for Immigrants in the United Kingdom

Immigrants to the United Kingdom, a popular destination for migrants from within and outside the European Union, benefit from the country’s flexible labor market and skills system with multiple points of entry. But the United Kingdom’s “work-first” approach to professional development, coupled with limited opportunities to advance into middle-skilled jobs, has left many immigrants stuck on the lowest rung of the ladder.

This report is part of a research project funded by the European Union and conducted in collaboration with the International Labour Office. The case studies in the first phase of the project consider the influence of individual characteristics and broader economic conditions on the employment prospects of foreign-born workers. The reports in the second phase evaluate the effectiveness of integration and workforce development policies in helping foreign-born workers overcome these barriers and move up into middle-skilled positions that pay a family-sustaining wage. The six case study countries are the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.


This project is funded by the European Union

While the government has not traditionally targeted immigrants with integration initiatives, budget cuts in recent years and public hostility toward immigration have made policymakers even more hesitant to do so. Immigrants are left relying on mainstream public services, which have been dramatically rolled back in some cases. Policymakers have slashed public funding for vocational training and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, leaving their provision up to employers who may not be inclined to pay for such services.

This report assesses how effectively integration policies in the United Kingdom are helping migrants advance into middle-skilled jobs from low-skilled work or unemployment, focusing in particular on employment services, ESOL, and vocational training. The author then discusses the ways that other policies and contextual factors often undermine migrants’ entry into the labor market and progression out of low-skilled jobs, including cuts to welfare programs, difficulty navigating a complex and ever-changing workforce development system, and low demand for training in some sectors, particularly those with high turnover.

Table of Contents 

I.     Introduction

II.    Recent Immigration Policy in the United Kingdom

III.    The Role of Employment Services in Supporting New Migrants

A.    The Effectiveness of Mainstream Employment Services in Supporting New Arrivals

B.    Targeted Employment Services for Refugees

C.    Employment Support Delivered by Civil Society

D.    Recognition of Skills and Work Experience

IV.    English for Speakers of Other Languages

V.    Vocational Training

The Role of Trade Unions

VI.    Discussion: The Impact of Other Policies and Contextual Factors

A.    Cuts to Government Spending and the Economic Crisis

B.    The Pace of Change in Workforce Development and Employment Policy

C.    System Effects

D.    Lack of Demand for Training

VII.    Conclusions