British fruit pickers
Migrant workers take fewer days off in the first two years of employment, researchers found Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Migrants are harder working than Britons but become just as lazy after only a couple of years in the country, a new study has found.

People from Central and Eastern Europe arriving in the UK are said to be more than three times less likely to be absent from work than British colleagues, partially because they want to prove their worth to employers.

This has led to migrants from countries like Poland and the Baltic states gaining a good reputation among UK employers and sometimes being favoured over British workers, researchers say.

But a study at the University of Bath found this strong work ethic is only temporary and lasts for about two years after a migrant arrives.

Chris Dawson, senior lecturer in business economics at the University of Bath, says: "This is the first study with concrete evidence on the existence of the migrant work ethic. It backs up managers' perceptions that Polish and other Central and Eastern European migrants are harder working than UK employees, but importantly only for around two years from their arrival in the UK.

"The study shows that the common view that UK workers are lazy compared to migrant workers is misconceived: in fact migrants are temporarily working extra hard to offset the challenges they face when they first enter the UK job market.

"We clearly see in the research that migrants new to the UK put in a couple of years of hard work, before a better understanding of our culture and job market means they adopt the same work ethic as native workers."

The research, published in the Work, Employment and Society journal, used data from the official labour force statistics to study absence rates of migrant workers from when the eight nations of Central and Eastern Europe joined the EU in 2004.

The study says the subsequent three years saw more than 600,000 workers from these new EU nations register for work in the UK – shattering projected government figures of about 13,000.

Dr Benjamin Hopkins, lecturer in work and employment at the University of Leicester, says this unexpected high level of competition in the UK job market meant migrants worked even harder to gain permanent contracts.

"When the Central and Eastern European nations became part of the EU in 2004 the numbers of migrants registering to work in the UK was far beyond any projected figures," he says.

"There was very little planning around information for employers about qualifications in these countries and how they relate to the UK system. This lack of understanding exacerbated the need for migrants to demonstrate their value to employers in a very practical way: by recording lower levels of absence than their colleagues from the UK."