EU migrants wanted for new research

Trinity Fellow and Senior Tutor Professor Catherine Barnard is appealing to EU migrants in the UK to participate in research to help inform public debate ahead of the referendum on EU membership.

Catherine Barnard
Catherine Barnard

Together with Dr Amy Ludlow, of Gonville and Caius College (and a former Trinity student), Professor Barnard is examining all aspects of EU migrants’ experience in the UK in her capacity as senior fellow in the ESRC’s UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

Migration had become a ‘highly politicised issued’ and the role of EU migrants in the UK ‘particularly sensitive’, said Professor Barnard – which makes the research all the more vital.

We need to understand the migrant experience. Our aim is to gather robust empirical evidence about EU migrants’ experiences of finding work and being employed in the UK, as well as their use of social security.

The Professor in European Union Law and Employment Law added:

We also want to know what motivates EU citizens to move to the UK. It is a big step for anybody to change countries…you are leaving your home and family, and coming to a very different culture. Are you glad you made the move?

Amy LudlowTo encourage EU-8 migrants (from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia) to participate in the research, Professor Barnard and Dr Ludlow were interviewed on Polish Waves, Cambridge 105 FM, and have visited cultural centres in Cambridge and London. They also want to recruit a Polish-speaking research assistant. The project will be launched with a roundtable in the Cambridge Law Faculty on 26 February 2016 (places are free and open to all on a first come, first served basis, see below).

As well as one-to-one interviews and focus groups they are adopting novel approaches to research, including making a documentary and providing migrant workers with disposable cameras – ‘another way of trying to capture the migrant experience that offers an alternative insight to words on paper,’ says Professor Barnard.

The project is a two-way process, she says, with minute-long podcasts summarizing relevant aspects of the law, which will be available on EU Migrant Worker Project later this month.

What we can offer the migrant community in return is quite detailed knowledge of the law and their rights and how to enforce those rights, both to claim employment rights but also social security benefits.

Under EU law, EU migrants have rights to equal treatment in their terms and conditions of employment and the social and tax advantages offered to domestic workers. This includes the payment of child benefit and ‘in-work benefits’, such as tax credits.

These benefits have led to charges of the UK becoming a ‘honeypot nation’ – the lure of which Prime Minister David Cameron argues should be tackled through changes to EU rules on the free movement of people and the availability of social security.

Unlike some countries, the UK did not impose restrictions on the admission of EU-8 migrants in 2004, after which more than a million workers took advantage of their free movement rights.

But when it comes to exercising their employment rights, the researchers have already found that migrants are under-represented in the estimated 1,500 or so cases brought by EU-8 migrant workers to employment tribunals in the last three years.

However, in this earlier research Professor Barnard and Dr Ludlow identified various factors affecting migrants’ willingness and ability to use tribunals, including: lack of knowledge of their rights, reluctance to engage with the judicial system and, for those in the UK for a short time, a desire to maximise their earnings over complaints about mistreatment.

Professor Barnard said:

By combining this insight with knowledge about the law in this field, we hope to shed new light on the big question of how we adequately regulate migration within a socio-economically diverse EU and a post-financial crisis context.  This question is central to Brexit and to the outcome of the UK’s referendum on EU membership.

To take part in the EU Migrant Worker Project, either in interviews or via photography, please email or send a message via

You can keep up-to-date with project on Twitter @eumigrantworker

To attend the 26 Feburary launch please email 

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