New patterns of intra-EU migration? Ethnographic insights on labour and welfare experiences of migrant workers

Convenors: Gabriella Alberti (Leeds University Business School), Diego Coletto (University of Milano-Bicocca) & Giovanna Fullin (University of Milano-Bicocca)

Since the financial crisis in 2008 and the effects of austerity policies, we have witnessed new patterns of intra-EU migration especially of young people in search of opportunities. Between 2009 and 2014 the largest increase of arrivals was registered in countries like Germany, Austria, the UK, and Denmark. Just considering flows to Germany, the 2014 saw 1.4 million arrivals, with 60% of the new residents being from EU countries (primarily Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, but also “old EU” Southern members). Moreover in 2012-13 immigration from the South of Europe in the UK has surpassed that from Eastern countries (EC 2017).

Numbers however can only reveal the scale of the phenomenon, while there has been only limited fine-grained research on the subjective aspects of these “new” European migrants’ experiences of mobility, on their motivations and expectations, their efforts to access the local labour markets and their relationship with the welfare state systems. Besides “life-style migration” of people with affluent family background, there are high skilled youth of “Erasmus generation” looking for better career opportunities and also low skilled economic-oriented migrants escaping the effects of prolonged social and economic crisis and austerity. The lack of opportunities for the present and the negative or limited perspectives for the future are likely to impact on mobility decisions of people and, in particular, of young people (both high and low educated) living in Eastern and Southern European countries, which have been strongly hit by the economic crisis.

Indeed there has been a shortage of empirical research on the experiences of EU citizens exercising their labour mobility and social rights in the common market, while recent research has shown barriers on the ground to the implementation of equal access to social protections for EU ‘movers’. At the same time and despite the rhetoric around migrants as “welfare tourists” at the core of the nationalistic anti-immigrant discourses, there is evidence that migrants apply for benefits less than citizens, and tend to still rely on elements of their country’s welfare system for their social reproduction.

Against this background this stream aims to explore the lived experiences of migration, and labour market and welfare integration of this “new generation” of migrants, with a focus on the “revived” migration from the East and South to the North of Europe. Are South and East Europeans who emigrate to Centre and North European countries very different from other migrants coming from outside EU in terms of motivations, expectations and individual strategies? How do mobile EU citizens experience access to employment and welfare support measures? What kind of new forms of temporary or onward migration are emerging? How do they address welfare conditionality and labour precariousness and organize their welfare transnationally?

We believe that in-depth qualitative and ethnographic studies can critically contribute to the knowledge of this topic and provide more insights in the current transformation of the social aspects of internal mobility in the EU.

Specific themes include but are not limited to:

  • Conceptualization of new migrations and comparison with previous migrations;
  • Motivations and expectations of new migrants from Southern and Eastern European  countries to Northern Europe;
  • New geographies of migration intra EU: the attractiveness of big cities     and of other destinations;  
  • Policy reforms/discourses about welfare tourism/their impact on migrants’     everyday lives;
  • How do new migrants organize welfare access across borders;
  • Experiences of EU migrants’ labour market (selective) integration;
  • Low-skilled and high-skilled new migrants;
  • Transnational lives and strategies, onward migration, multinational worker;
  • Relationship between multiple welfare entitlements and employment condition;
  • Use of mix of traditional qualitative research tools with more innovative research tools to study labour and welfare mobility (for instance digital ethnography).


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