Free Movement and Equal Rights for Low-Wage Workers? What the United States Can Learn from the New EU Migration to Britain
UC Berkeley Law School, Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy Issue Brief
20 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2011 Last revised: 21 Jun 2011
Date Written: May 1, 2011
Until recently, there have been few examples around the world of immigration systems that admit low-wage workers under conditions of true mobility and equal rights. While the European Union has permitted free movement of workers between its member states for half a century, and guarantees those workers equivalent rights to citizen workers on the job, many in the United States have assumed that there is little to learn about our own situation from looking at the EU, often perceived as an accord between rich white nations. But times have changed. The EU’s enlargement in 2004 and 2007 brought ten Eastern and Central European nations into the free movement regime. Wage disparities are now as high as sixteen to one between the wealthiest and poorest EU member states, nearly three times the average ratio between the US and Mexico.
Using the UK as a primary example, this paper asks to what extent the EU free movement regime has delivered on its promises for new EU nationals doing low-wage work in the UK, and, where it has faltered, seeks to understand why. The paper concludes with an exploration of the insights this experience offers for efforts in the United States to improve the conditions of work for all low wage workers, immigrants and residents alike.
Keywords: immigration, free movement, migration, labor
JEL Classification: D63, F22, J61
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation