Between 2013 and 2017, the Social Support and Migration in Scotland (SSAMIS) project interviewed over 200 migrants and 60 experts across Scotland, focusing their work on Aberdeen City and rural Aberdeenshire.
Note on method and sample for Employment section: Most research participants worked in the fish industry, agriculture, or low-skilled sectors like care or hospitality. Very few were unemployed. A small number were selfemployed or owned businesses, usually having lived in Scotland for at least five years.
Finding stable employment was a key motivating factor for Central and Eastern
European (CEE) migrants coming to Scotland. Other factors motivated long-term settlement, including family, lifestyle, long-term security and welfare support. Migrants found work through agencies (in country of origin or after arrival); through existing social networks in North East Scotland; and less often through local resources (websites, JobCentre, etc).
The insecurity of low-skilled, low-paid work
Many participants discussed their vulnerability in a pool of unskilled labour, especially new arrivals, those with lower levels of English, and those with long-term agency work or zero-hours contracts. Difficulties included: not receiving full pay; not understanding employment contracts; not knowing about rights such as paid leave; discrimination
around language use; inter-nationality group tensions; only being told their hours at short notice; being unable to make plans due to a lack of reliable income; being forced to move around Scotland or the UK for seasonal work. Migrants could also be reluctant to take up certain rights for fear of losing their jobs.
The Aberdeenshire fishing industry could be dangerous; several migrants had lost
family or friends working on boats or in factories. Fish factory work could cause chronic health issues such as skin conditions or repetitive strain injuries.
Many migrants were overqualified for their low-skilled roles, and while they had generally arrived in Scotland with plans to accept low-skilled work, many became ‘stuck’ due to low English language skills and a lack of opportunities or time to improve them, or to improve other qualifications. There was also a lack of varied jobs and industries in rural Aberdeenshire. Whatever the reason, de-skilling had negative emotional effects, especially for those staying long-term who were unable to find work more suited to their education, skills and previous experience. One way migrants responded to this was to become self-employed in sectors such as construction, mechanics, interpreting, cake decorating, or beauty and hairdressing. Others gained experience via volunteering, which led to better local knowledge and social networks, which in turn improved
occupational mobility. However, some sectors (such as the oil industry) could be difficult to access due to migrants’ lack of local networks and industry contacts.
Positive relationships with employers and co-workers (generally other migrants) were key to job satisfaction and vital to finding housing, understanding bureaucratic
processes, building local networks and developing a safety net. It was relatively rare for migrants to form bonds with Scottish co-workers, and many spoke Polish or Russian at work, which hindered chances to improve English skills. However, some migrants worked long-term in smaller businesses or farms, where they interacted with Scottish locals.
More information, including briefing papers on a range of topics, is available on the SSAMIS website: Link.
Data Source: 2017: Summary write-up based on SSAMIS project fieldwork. Link.
Tackling Economic Barriers Pilot Study
A pilot study was carried out by GREC from March to June 2017, using short questionnaires about experience of working life in the UK. Even with a small sample size of 65, some interesting patterns emerge.
Most participants were happy with their present or most recent jobs, including all full-time workers and 90% of long-term residents. The largest dissatisfied group was part-time workers, a quarter of whom were not happy with their jobs.
Similarly, most participants knew where to look for a new job, with the notable exception of those with lower skill in spoken English, around half of whom did not know where to look. This group also tended to work in lower status occupations.
Despite job satisfaction, 43% of participants felt their jobs were not a good match for their skills and qualifications, though this figure declined with length of residence in the UK. Two-thirds of participants resident for less than 5 years felt they lacked opportunities for career progression, and half felt insecure in their jobs. For those resident more than 5 years, each of these figures decreased by half. Participants in higher-status jobs (managers, engineers, etc) tended to be more positive about their opportunities.
Getting a job seems to become easier with length of residence: three-quarters of new arrivals considered it difficult to get a job, compared with less than a quarter of those resident 5+ years. However, this may be a self-selecting pattern – those without employment face visa restrictions.
The chance of experiencing discrimination at work also appears to rise over time, reported by 17% of participants who had lived in the UK less than 5 years, and 37% of those resident 5+ years. Men and participants with poorer English skills were more likely to experience discrimination – 42% and 40% respectively, versus 23% of women and 18% of participants with better English skills.
Data Source: 2017: Unpublished Research by GREC.
Economic Experiences of Different Ethnic Groups in North East Scotland
GREC conducted research in 2015-17, with over 200 people taking part in surveys, interviews and focus groups. 71% of research participants faced barriers, difficulties or obstacles in looking for work. Among those who had not, some had not looked for work because of family commitments.
Almost a third of participants had underestimated how long it can take to secure a job, and 20% of participants – all female – had trouble finding work due to lack of childcare. Those who cited discrimination (16%) tended to be more highly qualified, with higher expectations about how they should be treated by employers. 10% of participants felt they were disadvantaged by their lack of experience in Scotland, and their qualifications not being recognised. This was associated with a general lowering of expectations and either acceptance or frustration at being underemployed.
Only 14% of participants mentioned language, including issues with jargon and dialects – but most participants did not seek jobs which required English proficiency. However, this also contributes to people becoming ‘stuck’ in particular types of employment.
Also see 2016 Interim Summary Report: Link.
Data Source: 2017: Economic Experiences of Different Ethnic Groups in North East Scotland: Final Summary Report. Link.
Challenges for Ethnic Minority Small Business Owners
Researchers conducted interviews with 25 ethnic minority business owners in Aberdeen, all of whom faced difficulties in accessing labour, due to frequent changes to immigration rules. Challenges in attracting ethnic majority staff lead to a heavy reliance on student workers, but pathways for students to remain in the UK are narrowing. Meanwhile, Aberdeen’s economy is tied to oil price fluctuations, creating rapid changes in access to finance, demand for goods and services, prices for energy and raw materials, etc. The authors argue that ethnic minority entrepreneurs have less robust support systems to deal with these issues, leaving them much more vulnerable to failure.
Data Source: 2016: Rahman, Z, et al. ‘What influences ethnic entrepreneurs’ decision to start-up: Some evidence from Aberdeen, Scotland.’ Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development. Link.