Migration, the European Union and work: How much do you really know?

Migrants1 are a significant part of the UK workforce: doctors in Accident and Emergency units, colleagues in offices, the staff serving food in restaurants, workers building roads, someone’s boss, someone’s team leader. 

Of the estimated 30.3 million people in employment in the UK, 11%, approximately 3.4 million, are migrants.

EU14: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden
EU8: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia
EU2: Bulgaria, Romania 2 

Any changes to the levels of migrant workers in the UK labour force will be closely scrutinised and debated in the coming months, particularly in the context of the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

In 2016, which covers 6 months of post-referendum data, there was a statistically significant increase in the departure of European Union citizens from the UK – up 31,000 on 2015 to 117,000.

As attention turns to the the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU, the status of EU migrants (referred to here as EU14, EU8 and EU2) living and working here today, and our future relationship with migrant labour more generally, remains in focus, with  concerns raised in certain industry sectors about the impact any shortages of labour could have on businesses.

Test your knowledge, and explore the key data

EU migrants account for 2.2 million of the UK workforce, while non-EU for 1.2 million.

But how well do you understand some of the other key facts of migrant labour from the EU and beyond in the UK?  

When looking at the percentage breakdowns within each nationality group, choose which statement is correct…3

Data download

Migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, known as the EU2 countries, make up  281,000 of the UK’s workforce. But what are the key differences in their work characteristics compared with UK nationals?

Data download

Just over 1 million of the UK workforce is from the EU8, which includes Poland and the Czech Republic.

Data download

Migrants from outside the EU account for 1.2 million of the UK workforce, but how do they compare with UK nationals?

Data download

 The UK resident and working population

Migration has had an undeniable impact on the UK population over the last half century and beyond, and arguably that effect has been greater in the last 25 years as the numbers of people from the EU and outside the EU moving to the UK has grown.4

In the last 5 years (2011 to 2016) while the UK resident population has grown from 62.5 million to 64.7 million, the proportions of UK residents by nationality has largely remained the same.

EU14 and EU8 countries each account for 2 in every 100 people in the UK population, EU2 countries 1 in 100 people and the rest of the world account for 4 in 100 people. UK nationals make up the rest,  91 out of every 100 people in the population.

When it comes to employment, nationals from EU8 and EU2 countries are the most likely of any nationality in the UK  to be in work (83% of the migrant population from those groups).

Non-EU nationals had the lowest proportion of people in employment (62%), reflecting the fact that many non-EU nationals are here to study. At slightly more than 1 in 10, 11% of non-EU nationals were estimated to be inactive and state study as the reason for inactivity, the highest proportion compared with other nationalities.

Approximately three-quarters of nationals from the UK and EU14 countries were in employment (74% and 76% respectively).

Explore key migrant employment facts 

While there is no such thing as an “average” working person, we’ve pulled out the dominant employment characteristics within each nationality group – EU14, EU8, EU2, non-EU, UK.

Future migrant labour from the EU

It’s clear that some industries and occupations are more reliant on migrant labour than others, and the relationship between workers, wages, skills, occupations and nationality is under scrutiny, particularly for workers from EU countries outside the UK as Brexit negotiations start.

That includes the manufacturing industry, which takes 11% of its workforce from the EU, as well as the  transport, construction and the distribution, hotels and restaurant industries, which each take 9% of their workforce from the EU respectively.5

These figures don’t include additional short-term workers, such as seasonal workers, and so the importance of EU labour in these areas may be greater still.

It’s worth noting that nationals from the EU8 and EU2 countries tend to work longer hours for less money (based on median gross hourly pay), and, in common with EU14 nationals, are more likely to be over-qualified for the roles they are doing than UK nationals, yet they are more likely to be in jobs requiring low skills. 

Nationals from EU14 countries tend to be in jobs requiring high skills, and earn more than UK nationals.

The future relationship between the UK and workers from the EU may not be known for some time, but many employers and employees will be following discussions very closely.

Notes and definitions:

Hourly pay

When comparing the average gross hourly pay (the amount of pay received per hour before tax, National Insurance and other deductions) by nationality, the median is chosen as the main measure; that is the data value at which 50% of data values are above it and 50% of data values are below it.

We present the median because the distribution of earnings is not symmetrical, with more people earning lower salaries than higher salaries; this is consistent with other ONS publications, such as the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE), ONS’ preferred measure of earnings.

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

You are welcome to embed the quizzes used in this piece. Use the following code:

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<iframe width="100%" height="670px" src="https://www.ons.gov.uk/visualisations/dvc405/eu8/index.html" scrolling="no" frameborder="0"/>


<iframe width="100%" height="670px" src="https://www.ons.gov.uk/visualisations/dvc405/a2/index.html" scrolling="no" frameborder="0"/>

Outside EU:

<iframe width="100%" height="670px" src="https://www.ons.gov.uk/visualisations/dvc405/outsideeu/index.html" scrolling="no" frameborder="0"/>

Other Visual.ONS articles:

Commonwealth trade in focus
Who does the UK trade with?
Understanding the UK economy

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