Introduction: An Overview of Migration to the UK
Migration in the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) has a history of growth and constant change. Many factors contribute to migration patterns including: policy implementation, economy, demand for high and low skilled labor, oppressive regimes creating refugees, education, family, diversity, language, and overall opportunity. Most immigrants in the UK are from the EU. Until recently this was facilitated by the EU’s open border and open employment opportunities provided to citizens of member countries. Due to the recent Brexit vote passing, rapid changes are sure to ensue reflecting the UK’s new independent status. Migration patterns will adapt, just as they have in the past.
This article is a brief overview of immigration and emigration relating to the UK. While it is no means meant to be comprehensive, it does offer insight into who is immigrating to the UK, who is emigrating from the UK, and why?
The first section addresses why people choose to immigrate to the UK instead of somewhere else. Some of the reasons are predictable, some are not, and these reasons will continue to change and reflect the needs of migrants from within the EU and from outside of the EU.
The second section covers the story of the UK’s migration history throughout the last century. It points to specific times and policies in the past which allowed the expansion of migration and helped contribute to the diversity which exists in the UK today.
The third section explores migration statistics. It covers the number of immigrants, emigrants, and the net migration of the UK in recent years. However, it should be noted that many of the statistics are not comprehensive and have a significant margin of error. Most of the information is acquired from airport immigration paperwork, and many simply do not participate in the surveys provided to obtain these statistics.
The final section discusses statistics surrounding asylum seekers and managed migrations, or legal labour and student migration from outside the EU, which face special restrictions and regulations surrounding legal immigration to the UK. It addresses who is coming, and for what reasons. Asylum seekers currently face the most restrictions regarding immigration to the UK.
Understanding how and why migration patterns exist offers a unique history reflecting societal needs and economic progress. The UK may have a lower rate of immigration now than in the past, because of the uncertainty of Brexit, but this is bound to change as well.
Why Do Immigrants Come to the UK?
The three main reasons people are coming to the UK, and not somewhere else, are for work, language, and study opportunities. Desire to unite with family and the diversity of immigrant’s origin countries also play a role in attracting immigrants to the UK.
- Work: The number one reason people are immigrating to the UK is for work. According to Full Fact, UK immigration statistics currently show 47% of EU citizens, and 22% of non-EU citizens immigrate for work. The UK’s economic growth has led to a need for workers in specialized occupations. This enables companies to sponsor visas, which promotes immigration. Both high and low skill jobs are in demand but only high skilled professions are eligible for company recruitment at this time. Many immigrants already have a job established before they arrive in the UK ensuring a seamless transition.
- Study: The second highest reason for immigration to the UK is for school. Full Fact reports 46% of non-EU citizens, and 20% of EU citizens immigrate for access to an education. Telegraph reports this was not always the case and has changed in recent years. From 2009-2011 study was the number one reason for immigration to the UK. Another statistic, from UNESCO, cites the UK as the having the second highest number of international students worldwide, with the United States of America as the first. Much of this attraction to study in the UK can be contributed to the next reason on the list.
- Language: The desire to learn, be submersed in, and speak English is also one of the main reasons for UK immigration, especially relating to study. English is the most spoken language in the world, with Spanish as a close second. English is considered a lingua franca, or a common language used by people around the world to communicate when their native languages differ. This makes English the most popular language for international business, trade, and politics. Learning English is a skill valued around the world that applies to many trades and professions.
- Family Network: Many people immigrate to the UK to join their families. Reuniting with family gives immigrants several advantages when establishing themselves in a new country. First, they have a network of people who can help give them connections for work opportunities if they do not have a previously established job waiting. Second, this network of people can help give immigrants a place to stay while acquiring a job, until they eventually find a place of their own. Third, having friends and family to offer emotional support is invaluable to an immigrant in a foreign country. Having someone to talk to regularly and work through any issues that arise can lead to quicker resolution of problems and a longer residency of the immigrant themself. Successful immigration is often attributed to having a family network
- Diversity: The diverse group of immigrants in the UK is another reason drawing people there, and not somewhere else. According to Pew Research the UK and Denmark tie for the most diversity of origin country in their immigrant populations. Pew Research also reports the top three places of origin for UK immigrants are India with 780,000 people, Poland with 700,000 people and Pakistan with 540,000 people. This diversity allows immigrants a sense of security and also a sense of being welcome in a foreign land.
All of these reasons combined offer compelling reasons for people to choose to immigrate to the UK. Most immigrants are seeking to prosper from the economic growth of the UK in recent years and come from places where the opportunities for success are not as great.
The Story of UK Migration
At the beginning of the 20th century there were no laws pertaining to immigration in the UK. What has changed since then? Who is coming? Who is leaving?
- 1957: The European Economic Community (EEC) is formed and is a precursor to the EU. The UK was not involved with the creation but its establishment opened up labor markets for citizens in all participating countries, facilitating easier migration. The founding countries include: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.
- 1962-1971: The demand for skilled workers increases after WWII, yet restrictions are implemented for immigrants making permanent residency difficult. Work vouchers and other systems are tested which prevent long-term immigration.
- 1968-1976: A large number of African-Asian immigrants arrive. Many are fleeing oppressive governments or warzones in Kenya, Uganda, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. An estimated 50,000 African Asian families immigrate to the UK during this time.
- 1945-1982: UK citizens are encouraged to help populate Australia and many emigrate. Tickets are sold for only 10 pounds for adults, and free for kids if they agree to stay for a minimum of two years. Many stay longer and are nicknamed the 10 Pound Poms.
- 1973: The UK, Ireland, and Denmark join the EEC which allows easier immigration and emigration for citizens.
- 1976: The Race Relation Act establishes criteria for ensuring diversity and ease of access for all people regardless of race, religion, or gender.
- 1978: The Canadian Migration Act is passed making emigrating to Canada easier for UK citizens and many leave to reunite with family.
- 1980: The Primary Purpose Rule is established in the UK making it necessary for marriage applicants to prove the purpose of their marriage is not for residency. This slows the system down and is eventually abolished in 1997. Another addendum of the policy states that only one wife or widow in a polygamous relationship will be granted residency in the UK.
- 1981: Greece joins the EEC and many immigrate to the UK.
- 1986: Portugal and Spain join the EEC and many immigrate to the UK
- 1988: The 1988 Immigration Act ensures EEC citizens permission to work and reside in the UK. Work vouchers are no longer a concern and permanent or long-term residency is established by many immigrants.
- 1989: The Berlin Wall falls and in 1990 a unified Germany joins the EEC for the first time.
- 1990: A work permit system is established in the UK which grants employers the ability to recruit skilled workers from outside the UK in other EU nations.
- 1993: The 1993 Maastricht Treaty officially establishes the EU in its current form. The Channel Tunnel is also opened making travel between France and the UK significantly easier for both immigrants and emigrants.
- 1995: Austria, Finland, and Sweden join the EU encouraging more migration.
- 1997: The UK gives control of Hong Kong back to China. This causes many families in Hong Kong to emigrate to the UK due to uncertainty with Chinese changes that are sure to come.
- 1999: The euro is adapted as the official currency of the EU. This further promotes trade and a unified European economy.
- 1999-2006: Immigration restrictions increase with asylum seekers coming to the UK from the troubled nations of Sri Lanka, the Middle East, and Somalia. Immigration limits are set restricting the number of eligible asylum seekers who will gain a visa.
- 2004: The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta, and Cyprus join the EU further promoting migration within the area.
- 2007: Bulgaria and Romania join the EU expanding migration again.
- 2008-2009: Immigration to the UK is up drastically from previous years and the economy benefits heavily.
- 2013: Croatia joins the EU bringing the total of countries up to 28.
- 2016: The UK leaves the EU. The Brexit vote passes but plans on how to execute a successful withdrawal are still underway.
As migration patterns continue to shift and change throughout time, so will restrictions and migration policy. Often, they are a reflection of each other and can be used as a tool to determine why the patterns shift in a particular manner.
Things You Did Not Know About Migration to the UK
Migration to the UK has greatly varied over the last decade. After the Brexit vote, which passed in favor of the UK pulling out of the EU, the UK immigration statistics, including UK net migration underwent significant changes. While it is unclear as of yet whether the vote itself caused these drastic changes or not, many speculate it is to blame for the recent shift in data. Certainty of the vote’s effect will take some time to establish but the current trends have a lot of insight to offer about where migration is headed in the future.
According to the UK’s Independent Fact Checking Charity, Full Fact, approximately 220,000 people immigrated to the UK by September of 2017. Full Fact also estimates approximately 130,000 people migrated out of the UK during this time. This places the net migration, or the number of people immigrating minus the number of people emigrating, of the UK at 90,000 people in 2017. This is an all-time low since 2012. Before the Brexit vote, Full Fact reported the net migration to be about 99,000 more, at 189,000 annually. Migration was at an all-time high before September 2016 and a drop of this size so close to the referendum points to its influence over the population.
What does all of this mean for UK migration? Put simply, immigration to the UK is severely down, even with the 3.7 million EU nationals currently living in the UK, while the emigration numbers continue to go up. This could be viewed as a positive for people looking to immigrate to the UK. With the number of visa applications going down, the percentage of applicants being accepted will increase concurrently. Also, the number of companies seeking and recruiting skilled professionals for work in the UK will rise, due to need for more workers.
As far as emigration is concerned, some of the power established through being an EU citizen is bound to change in the future. Ability to freely move from one EU nation to another will be hindered. Change from the official EU currency, the euro, back to the British pound will also cause significant changes to the economy. However, emigration will most likely remain fairly attainable within the EU for people willing to go through the process. Currently, Full Fact estimates 1.2 million UK nationals live outside of the country, in other EU countries. It is doubtful this number will drastically be reduced.
Huffington Post research suggests almost 16%, or 4.9 million, of the UK’s workforce is comprised of immigrants. This is a significant number when looking at the entire job pool. The UK has become dependent on immigration for economic purposes that benefit both the UK, and the immigrants themselves. Another study by the Huffington Post estimates 1.2 million UK born citizens have emigrated to other European Union (EU) countries, a privilege granted to, and made easy by EU status, which is now in limbo.
Full Fact reports that more working age EU nationals are working in the UK than working age UK nationals, or non-EU nationals proportionally. They cite 81% of eligible EU nationals working, while only 76% of eligible UK nationals, and 63% of eligible non-EU nationals are currently participating in the workforce. This could be attributed to the aforementioned statistic that the number one reason for immigration to the UK is for work.
The immigrant workforce comes from all over the EU and beyond. The January-March 2015 Labor Force Study conducted by the UK Office for National Statistics shows 2.93 million workers are non-EU, 791 thousand are from Western Europe, 256 thousand are from Eastern Europe (excluding Romania and Bulgaria), and 186 thousand are from either Romania or Bulgaria.
The UK relies on immigration to keep the economy functioning smoothly and its nearly 16% immigrant workforce displays this. The co-mingling of European peoples and cultures makes the UK an enticing location for prospective immigrants and although the numbers are dwindling now, immigration will continue to the UK on a large scale in the future.
Asylum and Managed Migrations
Legal labour and student migration from outside the EU is referred to as managed migration. Many of the immigrants that fall into this category bring their skills to the UK, where they are in demand. Managed migration visa applications are processed with UK consulates, UK embassies, or with the UK Visas and Immigration department.
April of 2006 brought changes to the managed migration policies in the UK. A points-based immigration system was created and slowly implemented until it took full effect in 2008 replacing previous policies like the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme and the work permit system.
The UK Border Agency defines the points-based system which is comprised of five tiers:
- Tier 1: highly skilled workers that promote productivity and growth for the UK.
- Tier 2: skilled individuals that have already established a job offer. They help complete and round out the workforce.
- Tier 3: low-skilled workers that help with temporary shortages in labor. Only limited numbers allowed.
- Tier 4: Students
- Tier 5: Youth covered by the Youth Mobility Scheme (allowed to work in the UK for a brief time) and temporary workers.
Policy advice about managed migration is given by the Migration Advisory Committee, founded in 2007.
A temporary cap was placed on immigrants entering the UK from outside the EU by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government in June of 2010. The limit was set at 24,100. A permanent cap on the number was placed in 2011.
Asylum seekers fall into another category of migration policy in the UK. Both the UN 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol have been signed by the UK which obligates them to offer protection from asylum seekers, also known as refugees, and ensures they will not be sent back to their country of origin. Refugees are seeking safety from persecution and discrimination in their native lands and seek protection from established nations, like the UK.
When there is an influx of asylum seekers concerns arise pertaining to detention center treatment and the length of time children can be detained in immigration centers. However, plans to minimise child detention have been in effect since July 2010.
In March of 2006 official numbers of asylum seekers in the UK were at a 13-year low. Some speculate this is a result of many not qualifying for the technical status of a refugee by definition. It could also be attributed to the safe third country rule which states refugees must go to the first free country and not simply choose one based on preference.
In January of 2017 the number of asylum seeking applications dropped again. 560,000 fewer applications were received than the previous year, 2016. Most of the first-time applicants in 2017 had citizenship from Iraq and Syria.
Until January of 2018 homeless refugee detainees were permitted to apply for housing while still being detained so they would have a place to go once they were released. With the law repealed, this could also deter asylum seekers from seeking protection in the UK.