UK Perspectives 2016 – International migration to and from the UK

International migration has been a major topic of discussion in the debate around the EU referendum. But how much migration is there between the UK and the rest of the EU1, and how does that compare with migration to and from the rest of the world?

Part of a series of UK Perspectives providing an overview of key aspects of the nation over the last four decades, this article presents some key statistics relating to International migration to and from the UK.

There are two types of migration to and from the UK.

  • ‘Long-term’ migration is when a person moves country for 12 months or more. It is used in official net migration figures, which help inform our population estimates and projections. It is also used to measure progress towards the government’s ambition to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands a year.
  • ‘Short-term’ migration is when a person moves country for between one and 12 months. People visiting a country for less than one month are excluded from these figures.

What are the levels of long-term international migration in the UK?

ONS statistics on long-term international migrants include three main measures:

  • Immigration – number of people who have moved to the UK for at least a year.
  • Emigration – number of people who have left the UK for at least a year.
  • Net migration – the difference between the number of people moving to live in the UK and the number of people moving out of the UK to live elsewhere.

In 20152 an estimated3 630,000 people immigrated to live in the UK. This is over twice as many as the 297,000 people who emigrated from the UK to live abroad, resulting in a net migration estimate of 333,000.

Net migration hasn’t always been positive in the UK. Between 1964 and 1979 more people left the UK overall than arrived to live in the UK.

Since 1994 the number of people immigrating to the UK has consistently been greater than the number emigrating each year.

Over the last two decades, both immigration and emigration have increased, with immigration exceeding emigration by more than 100,000 in every year since 1998.

 

Long-Term International Migration, UK, 1964 to 20154


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Recent peaks have coincided with new countries’ accession to the EU. For example, between 2003 and 2004, immigration increased 15% reaching a record high at the time of 589,000. This coincided with accession of the EU8 – the eight central and eastern European countries that joined the EU on May 1, 2004: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

In January 2007, Bulgaria and Romania (the EU2) joined the EU. However, migrants coming to the UK from these countries were initially subject to transitional employment restrictions, which placed limits on the kind of employment they could undertake. These restrictions ended on January 1, 2014.

Where do long-term immigrants to the UK come from?

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In 2015, a total of 44% (277,000) of long-term immigrants to the UK were non-EU citizens, 43% (270,000) were EU citizens and 13% (83,000) were British citizens.

Long-term International Immigration to the UK by citizenship, 1975 to 2015


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Non-EU citizens continue to account for a slightly larger share of immigration than EU citizens.

Long-Term International Immigration to the UK by citizenship, 2015


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British citizens immigrating to the UK may be returning to the UK after living abroad for a period and some will be British citizens who were born abroad5.

In 2015 EU156 citizens accounted for just under half (129,000) of all people immigrating from the EU. EU87 citizens from Central and Eastern Europe make up 27% (73,000) of all people immigrating from the EU. Bulgaria and Romania (the EU2) account for practically all (97%) of the immigration in the ‘Other EU’8 category.

The most common nationality entering the UK (excluding British) was Indian with 46,000 people immigrating in 2014. China was second in the list with 39,000 people. The top three EU countries with the highest numbers of citizens immigrating to the UK were Romania (37,000), Poland (32,000) and France (24,000).

Why do people migrate to the UK?

The most common reason for migrating to the UK in 2015 was for ‘work-related’ reasons. In 2015, 294,0009  people from outside the UK migrated to the UK for ‘work-related’ reasons. Of these, 61% (178,000) were from EU citizens, 24% (72,000) were non-EU citizens and the rest (44,000) were British citizens.

Main reason10 for immigration for foreign born residents migrating to the UK in 201511


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The second most common reason for migrating to the UK in 2015 was to ‘study’. In 2015, 156,000 people from outside the UK migrated to the UK to ‘study’. Of these, 72% (112,000) were non-EU citizens, 23% (36,000) were EU citizens and the rest (9,000) were British citizens.

How do levels of emigration from the UK differ by citizenship?


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British citizens accounted for 41% (123,000) of emigrants in 2015. The other 59% was split fairly evenly between EU citizens (85,000) and non-EU citizens (89,000) emigrating from the UK.
Long-Term International Emigration from the UK by citizenship, 1991 to 2015, UK


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Recent levels of emigration have remained stable and well below the high of 427,000 in 2008.

UK Net Long-Term International Migration by citizenship, 1975 to 2015


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The flow of people coming to live in the UK from outside the EU increased in the mid 1990s and has remained at relatively high levels. The net number of non-EU migrants has always been higher than the net number of EU migrants, though over the last decade the numbers have become much closer.

Net migration from the EU was small until 2004 when it increased substantially coinciding with the accession of the EU8.

Between 2012 and 2014, net migration from the EU more than doubled from 82,000 to 174,000 as a result of increased immigration. This follows Croatia joining the EU in July 201312 and the lifting of work restrictions for EU2 nationals from January 2014. In addition, a comparatively strong economy during this time may have made the UK attractive as a place to live.

Short-Term International Migration, UK

There are three widely used definitions of short-term migrants:

  • United Nations (UN) definition of a short-term migrant – three to 12 months for the purposes of work or study.
  • Three to 12 months – all reasons for migration, this includes the UN definition and the category ‘other’13.
  • One to 12 months – all reasons for migration, this includes the above but for one to 12 months. As such this definition captures more visits made for holidays and to visit family and friends.

What are the levels of short-term (less than one year) international migration to and from England and Wales?

There were an estimated 1.2 million short-term (one to 12 months) international migrants to England and Wales in the 12 months to June 2014.14  Of these, 719,000 million (62%) were for ‘other’ reasons such as holidays and visiting family and friends15. An estimated 2.4 million short-term international migrants left England and Wales for other countries outside the UK in the same period.

Short-term international migration flows, year ending June 2004 to year ending June 2014, England and Wales


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Three out of four (73%) short-term visits to England and Wales were for periods of between one and three months, while the remainder were for 3 to 12 months in 2014. Five out of six (84%) short-term visits away from the UK were for periods of between one and three months, while the remainder were for three to 12 months in 2014.

British citizens accounted for 14% (167,000) of those visiting England and Wales for one to 12 months in 2014. The remainder was spread equally between EU (41%) and non-EU (45%) citizens.


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People coming to England and Wales for short-term visits do so for a variety of reasons, such as to see what it is like, study, potentially look for short term work, to conduct business, improve language skills or visit friends and relatives.

The most popular (62% of all visits) reason to visit England and Wales for one to 12 months was for ‘other reasons’, which includes things like holidays, travelling, improving language skills and visiting friends/family. The remainder of all visits (439,000) were fairly evenly split between ‘employment and business’ (242,000) and ‘study’ (196,000) visits.

Reasons for short-term visits differ depending on length of stay. For stays of between one to three months, ‘other reasons’ make up 71% (601,000) of all visits. Whereas the split of visits between the reasons for short-term migrants staying three to 12 months were more evenly spread.

In 2014, 317,000 short-term (three to 12 months) international visits to England and Wales were made. Of these, 35% (112,000) were ‘employment and business’ visits, 27% (87,000) were to study, and 37% (118,000) were for ‘other reasons’.

What are the main reasons for short-term (three to 12 months) international visits away from England and Wales?


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British citizens accounted for 71% of all short-term (one to 12 month) visits from England and Wales to other countries in 2014.

Non-EU citizens accounted for 16% of visits and the remaining 13% were made by EU citizens.

The most popular reason for visits away from England and Wales for one to 12 months was ‘Other’, at 91% (2.2 million), which includes things like holidays, travelling, improving language skills and visiting friends/family. The remaining 9% of visits were split between work (191,000) and study (41,000).

Analysis breaking down visits away from the UK into one to three month and three to 12 month categories show that stays for ‘Other’ reasons are lower for durations of three to 12 months (83%) compared to visits of between one to three months (92%).

‘Employment and business’ accounted for 7% (140,000) of people visiting other countries for one to three months in 2014. The remaining 1% (23,000) of visits were for ‘study’.

13% of visits for three to 12 months away from England and Wales were for work and 5% were for study. The majority (90%) of international visits away from England and Wales for three to 12 months for ‘employment and business’ were made by British citizens.

Until now we have been talking about flows of migrants coming to or leaving the UK in a given year. Now we talk about the total number of people living in the UK but born elsewhere and people born in the UK living in other countries – also known as stocks of migrants.

How has migration changed the population of the UK?

The UK population has become more culturally diverse, with a higher number of residents born outside the UK than ever before16.

In 2004, 9% or 5.3 million of the resident UK population were born outside the UK. In 2014, this had increased to 13% (8.3 million people17).

In 2004, 3% of people living in the UK were born in EU member countries (excluding UK) and 6% were born in non-EU countries. In 2014, this had increased to 5% born in EU member countries and 8% born in non-EU countries.

Population by country of birth, 2004 and 2014, UK


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How do short term migrants change the population of England and Wales?

It is possible to estimate the impact of short-term international migration on the overall population. In the year ending June 2014, the stock estimates showed that, on average, during the year there were 420,000 short-term emigrants away from England and Wales compared with 241,000 short-term immigrants in England and Wales using the one to 12 month definition.

Non-UK born population, Year ending June 2014, England and Wales

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The 241,000 short-term immigrants who, on average, are resident during the year is small compared to the 7.8 million18 residents of England and Wales who were born outside the UK. Nearly three out of four (73%) short-term migrants leave within three months of arriving in the UK and all leave within a year.

Why are National Insurance Number (NiNo) allocations to overseas nationals different to IPS estimates of long-term international migration?

Recently, questions have been raised as to why National Insurance Number (NINo) allocations to adult overseas nationals are much higher than the IPS estimates of Long-Term International Migrants coming into the UK.

On May 12 2016 ONS published an information note explaining these sources vary for good reason – by definition, they measure slightly different migrant populations.

Short-term migration (one to 12 months) to the UK largely accounts for the recent differences between the number of long-term migrants (as estimated by the International Passenger Survey (IPS)) and the number of National Insurance number (NINo) registrations for EU citizens.

NINo allocations to overseas nationals are issued when someone successfully applies to work in the UK. NINo allocations can be made to short as well as long-term migrants and are only registered when the application process has finished. This is likely to be after the person migrated to the UK.

ONS Long-Term International Migration statistics are based on the International Passenger Survey (IPS). The definition of a long-term migrant is someone who moves to a country other than that of his or her usual residence for a period of at least a year (12 months), so that the country of destination becomes his or her new country of usual residence.

In summary, these data sources are not directly comparable with each other. Estimates derived from the IPS remain the most appropriate for measuring long-term immigration. NINo registrations data are not a good measure of long-term immigration but they do provide a valuable source of information for highlighting emerging changes in patterns of migration. For more information on the analysis carried out, see the note that was published.


More information on migration estimates for the UK is available here. Alternatively if you have questions e-mail migstatsunit@ons.gov.uk

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Corrections 

Please note that the following corrections were applied to this article:

The title How do short term migrants change the population of UK? was changed to How do short term migrants change the population of England and Wales?

The key on the chart Non-UK born population, Year ending June 2014, England and Wales was changed from 

The chart title Long-Term International Migration, UK, 1964 to 2015 was changed to Long-Term International Migration, UK, 1965 to 2015

The chart title Long-Term International Emigration from the UK by citizenship, 2005 to 2015, UK was changed to  Long-Term International Emigration from the UK by citizenship, 1991 to 2015, UK

In the chart Short-term international migration flows, year ending June 2004 to year ending June 2014, England and Wales the labels for Inflow for 3-12 months and Outflow for 3-12 months were mixed up. This has now been corrected.

We apologise for the errors.