Skip to content

Journal Article

'Economic migrants' or 'middling transnationals'? East European migrants’ experiences of work in the UK


Publication date

Feb 2014


This article is devoted to the exploration of Polish and Lithuanian migrants’ work experiences in the United Kingdom. It argues that it is hard to categorize these individuals as highly skilled or low-skilled because, in spite of their relatively high qualifications, they often occupy low-skilled positions in the United Kingdom. Therefore, the article suggests that these migrants are “middling transnationals” (Conradson and Latham, 2005a) Although they are classified as economic migrants, many of them have migrated to the United Kingdom not only in order to earn money but also to try life abroad, see the world, or learn English. Following Bourdieu’s terminology, the article suggests ways in which migrants use different cultural capital (skills, qualifications, social environment) to enhance their economic capital in the United Kingdom, but also ways in which these different forms of migrants’ capital are interrelated. The findings suggest that Eastern Europeans are highly mobile in the British labour market. Provided they possess necessary linguistic skills, migrants progress from “any job” to a “better job” in search of a “dream job”. The article emphasises that this transition in the British labour market became easier after Poles and Lithuanians became EU citizens, whereby they were granted the right to work and improved access to education services in the United Kingdom. The article also argues that viewing migrants’ work experiences in the context of their future plans helps to understand better why working below qualifications is acceptable to many East Europeans in the United Kingdom. This is either because it helps them maximise their income and return to their home country as soon as possible, or because a low-skilled position helps them to improve other skills (e.g., English) and serves as a stepping stone to better career opportunities in the future.

Published in

International Migration

Volume and page numbers

52 , 36 -55





Migration and Labour Market



Albert Sloman Library Periodicals *restricted to Univ. Essex registered users*


Research home

Research home


Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest