Migration: A postcard from Pill in Newport

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Net migration figures rising to the second highest on record have been published, with migration to the UK one of the key economic talking points in the EU referendum.

Those who want to leave argue that migration from poorer parts of Europe like Romania and Slovakia drive down wages in the UK as people are willing to work for lower pay than those born here.

But those who want to remain say the free market and free flow of goods and people within the EU makes our economies more efficient and able to compete in the world.

The latest figures are already being used to back up both arguments, even in Wales which at the moment has the lowest proportion of migrants of all UK nations.

I have taken a snapshot of the issue in a docklands area of Newport.


  • Population analysis from the ONS published last summer said Wales has the lowest proportion of UK nations of non-UK born residents - 5.9% of the population or an estimated 180,000 residents. This compares to 14.2% in England, 7.2% in Scotland and 6.8% in Northern Ireland.
  • Of these, 80,000 in Wales are estimated as being from the EU.
  • The 2011 Census showed that 1.4% of people in Wales held an EU (non-UK/Irish) passport, of which 0.8% were from the "new" eastern European countries.
  • Polish was the most common non-British nationality in 2014, with an estimated 853,000 "usual" residents in the UK.
  • One estimate of the Polish population of Wales (based on the 2014 Annual Population Survey) is 24,000 - subject to a variable of 5,000. The 2011 Census figure was 17,000 Polish-speakers in Wales.
  • There was a "statistically significant increase" in the non-UK born population of the UK between 2013 and 2014 - from 7.9m to 8.2m.
  • The non-UK born population increased from 7,921,000 to 8,277,000 (an increase of 4.5%)
  • The latest figures out on Thursday estimate that net migration for EU citizens was 184,000 in the UK at the end of 2015 - but it cannot break down the figure for Wales or other nations and regions.
  • ONS population estimates, ending 2014 and ONS migration quarterly report 2016

Although Wales as a whole has a smaller proportion of migrants from the EU and beyond living here, there are communities - particularly in our urban centres.

One of them is Pill in Newport, a community of around 7,000 people.

Commercial Street has buildings going back to the 19th Century along with 1960s housing and some newly-built shop fronts and homes.

Close to the docks, Pill has welcomed people from other parts of the world for generations.

Finding figures to accurately tell us how many people are here from the EU and beyond is difficult.

If five years old now, the most reliable is the 2011 Census.

It shows Newport as a whole has the second highest proportion of non-UK born residents - 12,500 people or 8.5% of the local population.

A more detailed look shows around 3.5% of Pill's population came from EU countries.

But it suggests there are more than twice as many Bengali speakers, for example, than the 100 or so Polish speaking community.

As I walked along Commercial Street, I passed businesses from migrants from Poland, Slovakia, Romania as well as Pakistan, India and Kurdistan.

Talk to people on the streets in Newport and they say many of the new arrivals are from Romania, which joined the EU in 2007.


Shadie Khan came to Wales from Pakistan in 1963, following his father. He runs a grocery store in Commercial Road.

He says he arrived in Britain at the time the UK Government was encouraging people to migrate and join the workforce. Mr Kahn first started working in Port Talbot, then moved to Cardiff where his family ran a guesthouse in Newport Road before moving to Newport and opening his store in Pill 10 years ago.

He argues that it is unfair that people now want to migrate from Pakistan to work in Wales, like he did, can only come if they already have a job that will pay them more than £19,000 a year.

His son Nakeeb runs the family's second store at the other end of the road.

He also thinks migrants need to be treated equally whether they are from the EU or countries like Pakistan with a long standing relationship with the UK.

"There should be a fair system - it's very tight for people from Asia, they're making it tighter but it's easier for people from Europe."

David Turza, 28, runs a Polish supermarket in Commercial Road.

He had always dreamed of living in the UK and says even as a child growing up in Poland he was attracted by the images of black cabs and double decker buses.

His dream came true in 2006 when at 18 he arrived in the UK, first in Yorkshire, then moving to the West Midlands and finally settling in south Wales.

Mr Turza started living in Merthyr Tydfil and last year moved to Newport where he is manager of the Polish grocery store, which also sells goods for the Slovak and Hungarian communities.

Media caption,

David Turza shows Sarah Dickins his Polish supermarket in Pill, Newport

His wife works there too; all eight staff are Polish.

He said moving from Poland meant more money and it was a "better opportunity to have a better life."

He proudly added: "I've never had any [benefits] - I started working when I came over and I'm proud I work for myself."

Mr Turza would not be drawn on the EU referendum or whether he would vote.

Yale Brian has been landlord of the Alexandra Inn at the docks end of Commercial Road for 18 years.

The pub has been there for more than a hundred years and has seen the ethnic mix of the community evolve.

He says recent migration is different from previous decades and believes "there is too much of it".

Mr Brian said he believes immigrants are putting a strain on social housing in the area.

Although voting to leave the EU, his main motivation is not migration but the motives of politicians who want to stay in.

"They want to stay in the EU so that they have somewhere to work in the future so that they can jump on the gravy train," he said.

Those who want to leave the EU "have the country's interests at heart to leave".

Media caption,

Customers at The Alexandra Inn and Prof Patrick Minford give their views on migration

About half the customers I spoke to in his pub said they wanted the UK to leave the EU and would vote that way but they did not want to be identified.

Customer Graham Jones, who will be voting to stay in, said migration was not an issue for him and said: "I believe the working man has rights and the moment we leave Europe it will only be a matter of a few years before the government will totally eradicate working men's rights."


I talked to one man who told me that he was an asylum seeker from the Middle East, who came to the UK hidden in a lorry but was given a licence to work by the Home Office and works full time in Newport.

He told me "there are too many asylum seekers. Most asylum seekers cannot work but I am allowed to because I have a licence".

"Most of the European people claim benefit," he claimed. "You can see them at the job centre. It's full of Romanians, Czech Republic, Slovakians, none is working and are claiming benefit".

"But asylum seekers, if you allow them to work, they are all working and they pay tax, because they come from hard work life, you know."

It is certainly a complicated debate. I also met up with two long established academics to hear their views - and what they think is best for the Welsh economy.

Dr Eurfyl ap Gwilym disagrees with arguments that migrants take Welsh jobs. He says the fact that there are more people working in Wales than ever before shows it cannot be true.

He argues that when there are, for instance, Spanish people working in Welsh hotels it was because Welsh people do not want to do those jobs.

Fellow economist Prof Patrick Minford, on the other, hand believes unskilled immigration has driven down wages.

He believes that migration from Europe should be limited to people with the skills needed. He says the fact people can come to Wales from the EU is putting pressure on hospitals and schools and that social cost is probably greater than the money they generate for the economy.

But in the end, it is not the views of economists or how much we try to make sense of statistics - it is people's perceptions that will decide which way they will vote.