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Immigrants contribute more to UK economy than they cost, study says

New EU immigrants from Poland and nine other lower-income European countries contributed $8 billion to UK economy

Immigrants from ten lower-income European Union countries have in the past decade paid more in taxes to the United Kingdom than what they took out in public services, according to a study released Wednesday.

British policy makers had feared an influx of migrant laborers in 2004 from eastern and central European nations would compete for jobs with native residents and send home remittances. But contrary to their expectations, the migrants’ net fiscal contribution has been strong – a total of $8 billion that helped to curtail the U.K.’s economic deficit from 2008 to 2011, at the height of the global economic crisis, the study by the University College London found.

“When we additionally consider the savings to the U.K. taxpayer from immigrants bringing their own educational qualifications whose costs are borne by other countries ... these savings are even larger,” the report said.

The effects of immigration from within the EU have largely been cast in a negative light by British policymakers. They allege that newcomers “take away jobs” and burden the local education and public housing systems, according to the researchers. The study comes as British Prime Minister David Cameron mulls immigration restrictions on EU residents, a measure that would violate the EU charter that stipulates every citizens should be treated equally.

Popular opinion across Europe seems to run counter to the report’s findings on migrant population contributions to host economies. When respondents to a 2008 European Social Survey cited in the report were asked whether they thought immigrants received more or less in social benefits than they contribute in taxes, nearly half of all people said they believed that they take more than they give.

Eight percent of respondents reported immigrants should not qualify for public benefits immediately after arrival, and an equal percentage said they believed immigrants should never receive the same rights as native inhabitants of the host country.

Meghan Benton, policy expert at the Migration Policy Institute in London, said the study proved that fears surrounding immigration were unfounded.

The study “is flying in the face of the perception that migrants are high users of benefits,” she said. “Actually, most of the evidence suggests that the opposite is true.”

The study also found that immigrants from the European Economic Area (EEA) — which includes the 28 EU countries plus Lichtenstein, Norway and Iceland — have contributed $6 billion to the U.K. economy since 1995. As of 2001, the researchers note, EEA immigrants were making positive fiscal contributions, even in years when British residents reportedly received public services costing more than what they paid in taxes. Non-EEA immigrants received social services amounting to slightly more than their tax contributions, but their net cost to the government is nearing that of natives, the researchers added.

One way to alleviate the pressures of newcomers on public services such as housing and public health services would be to better prepare communities for an influx of immigrants, Benton said. She cited one EU study that found immigrants were more likely to use emergency health services rather than general care, which is cheaper. That puts unnecessary pressure on a community’s public health infrastructure, she said.

Other complaints include the overcrowding of apartment buildings and flouting of trash collection rules by immigrants, who may be unaware of how local recycling systems work.

Host communities need to ensure that immigrants are “getting the right information about how to access services,” Benton added.

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