The rate of economic migration from eastern and central Europe into the UK has started to slow, latest government figures have suggested, fuelling fears among employers of skills shortages further down the line.
What this means, employers have argued, is that the major surge in immigration triggered by the expansion of the European Union two years ago – and which has led to claims of wage deflation pressure but also helped to plug skills gaps in many areas – may now be starting to subside.
The statistics from the Home Office figures showed the number of central and eastern Europeans applying to register for work in the UK in the third quarter of 2006 was 2.8 per cent lower than in the equivalent quarter in 2005.
This in turn followed a fall of 1.7 per cent in the year to the second quarter and compared with a 12 per cent increase in the year to the first quarter.
John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development said the figures showed that those most eager to go west may already have done so.
"This apparent change in trend might be explained by the fact that the most eager migrants from countries that joined the EU in 2004 have by now probably tried their hand in the UK jobs market, a somewhat improved economic and employment situation in other parts of Europe, and an easing of restrictions to entry to migrants from these countries that were initially imposed by most other EU member states," he said.
"A more subdued flow of central and eastern European migrants could spell bad news for some employers but will be welcomed by hard pressed local authorities coping with the impact of high immigration on social infrastructure.
"And it will make even trickier Government and Bank of England estimates of how fast the economy can grow over the long-term without triggering higher inflation," he added.