Source: ONS, Long-Term International Migration Estimates, table 2.01a. Note that the sum of the shares may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
Long-Term International Migration Flows to and from the UK
This briefing provides an overview of Long-Term International Migration (LTIM) inflows (immigration), outflows (emigration), and the difference between the two (net migration) in the UK.
- Net migration to the UK, the difference between immigration and emigration, was 215,000 in 2011 (the latest available figure). This represents a decrease from 252,000 in 2010, which was the highest value on record for a calendar year.
- Immigration to the UK for 2011 was 566,000, down from 591,000 in 2010. Emigration from the UK was 351,000, up from 339,000 in 2010.
- There has been continuous net-emigration among British citizens since at least 1991. In 2011, 70000 more British citizens moved abroad than came to live in the UK.
- In 2011, non-EU citizens accounted for 55% of all immigration to the UK. The share of EU citizens (non- British) in total immigration increased from 22% in 2004 to 31% in 2011.
- Formal study remains the most common reason for migrating to the UK. In 2011, 232,000 people migrated to the UK for study purposes.
- Close to 52% of migrants to the UK in 2011 plan to stay for just 1 or 2 years.
Understanding the evidence
The analysis in this briefing is based on data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Long Term International Migration (LTIM). The primary data source for the LTIM estimates is the International Passenger Survey (IPS), but LTIM estimates also include adjustments based on other sources, such as the Home Office data on asylum seekers, the Labour Force Survey and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency international migration estimates.
To accurately understand and interpret LTIM data, it is important to be clear about its underlying definitions and limitations. ONS uses the current international standard definition of a long-term international migrant to produce LITM estimates: a person who moves to another country for at least one year (see “evidence gaps and limitations” below for further discussion).
As shown in Figure 1, LTIM estimates suggest that since the early 1990s overall net migration to the UK has always been positive, that is, the inflow of migrants to the UK has been greater than the outflow. The latest available figure for net migration is 215,000 in 2011 – this represents a fall from a peak of 252,000 in 2010.
During the 1990s, there was mostly a positive trend in net migration as these flows surged from negative 13,000 (i.e. net emigration) in 1992 to positive 163,000 in 1999. In the 2000s there was a significant increase in net migration that coincided with the EU enlargement and the opening of UK labour markets to workers from the so-called Accession 8 (A8) countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia) in 2004. Migrants from the A8 countries account for a significant portion of the recent net migration (about 23% since 2004). Total net migration to the UK during 1991-2011 was 2,929,000 migrants. Average annual net migration to the UK was 195,000 during 2000-2011, which is three times the annual average of 65,000 during 1991-1999.
In 2011, emigration from the UK was at 351,000. Meanwhile, immigration to the UK was 566,000.
The share of EU citizens in LTIM inflows and net flows has increased, but non-EU citizens still dominate
Table 1 focuses on migration inflows and net flows to the UK by citizenship of the migrant. In terms of inflows, in 2011 non-EU citizens (Commonwealth and 'other' categories) accounted for 55% of all inflows, EU citizens (not including British) accounted for 31% of inflows and British citizens for 14% of inflows. The share of EU citizens (not including British) in inflows has increased since 2004 (22%) and it is much higher than the average for the 2000-2003 period (about 13%). The share of migrants from Commonwealth countries has declined from 37% in 2004 to 32% in 2011.
Net migration of non-EU citizens was 204,000 and net migration of EU citizens (not including British) was 82,000 in 2011. British citizens are the only group characterised by continuous net-emigration since 1991 (i.e. negative net migration). In 2011 there were 71,000 more British citizens moving abroad than coming to live in the UK. While this number may seem high, it is slightly lower than the average over the previous decade During the 2000-2010 period, the annual average net-emigration of British citizens was 80,000.
Table 1 - Inflows and net flows by citizenship (thousands)
|Year||British||EU (British not included)||Commonwealth||Other|
As people often move for a variety of reasons, it can be difficult to categorise migrants based on their reasons for migrating to the UK. It is not hard to imagine, for instance, that someone is moving to the UK to join his/her spouse, work in the UK and to study. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that while the ONS records the categories discussed below as mutually exclusive categories, this is clearly not always the case in practice.
Focusing on inflows, LTIM estimates suggest that about 41% of the migrants came for study purposes, the most common reason in 2011 (see Figure 2). In total, the number of people moving to the UK for study reasons reached 232,000 in 2011.
Close to 32% of the migrants came for work related reasons in 2011. These migrants either had a definite job (20%) or came to look for a job (12%). Work reasons had been the most common reason for migrating to the UK until 2009, when study took over. About 13% of migrants came to accompany or join a family member. A noticeable variation over time is discernible for the 'other' category (the blip in 1995 is the result of a change in data recording for that specific year). There has been a reduction in the share represented by this group since the 1990s.
Work related reasons are the most common motives for leaving the UK (about 57% in 2011), with 35% of those leaving having a definite job abroad and 22% going abroad to look for work.
Note: For 1995, there is no data for the "Looking for work" category.
As Figure 3 shows, there has been a steady increase in the share of migrants that are coming to the UK for 1 or 2 years (from 33% in 1991 to 52% in 2011) and a steady decrease in the share that are coming for more than 4 years (from 39% in 1991 to 25% in 2011). 2010 was the first year in which the majority of migrants to the UK reported intentions of staying for just 1 or 2 years. Therefore, there has been an increase in “long-term” migrants that plan to stay in the UK for a relatively short period.
In 2011 about 16% of migrants planned to stay for 3 or 4 years, while close to 7% are not sure. See the Evidence gaps and limitations section for discussion of the limitation of the LTIM data in regards to using the intentions of migrants (which may or may not materialize).
The most popular destinations of people leaving the UK are non-EU countries
LTIM data also provide information about the ‘next intended’ country of residence of people leaving the UK, which may of course be different from their actual final destination. Moreover, the data will not reflect those instances in which individuals migrate to a country for a short time with plans of eventually moving to a third country.
The information reported in Figure 4 suggests that the most popular destinations of people leaving the UK are non-EU countries (commonwealth and others combined). Closer inspection of the data reveals that the most popular country for UK emigrants going to Commonwealth countries is Australia followed by countries in the Indian subcontinent. However, given that LTIM estimates do not make a distinction for naturalised British citizens, it is not possible to know how many of these people are returning to a country of origin.
Evidence gaps and limitations
Whether we should refer to all individuals who come to the UK as migrants for at least 12 months as 'long-term' migrants can be the subject of debate. For some people, the expression 'long-term' indicates a desire to settle or at least to spend a significant amount of time in the UK. However, the current ONS definition (which is the international standard) will place an individual who stays for 11 months and an individual who stays for 13 months in different categories, while a third individual who stays for 20 years will be in the same category as the individual who stays for 13 months.
In practical terms, the IPS asks individuals about their planned stay in the UK and abroad. The data thus captures individual intentions in order to measure inflows and outflows of migrants. Migrants’ plans for the future, e.g. the intention to stay in the UK for more than 12 months, may or may not materialize. The ONS uses different methods to address this challenge by, for example, adjusting for ‘visitor switchers’ (i.e. those whose original intention was to stay for less than one year but who subsequently stay longer) and for 'migrant switchers' (i.e. those who intended to stay for more than twelve months but left within a year). These adjustments remain less than perfect.
Capturing information on migration is not the only purpose of the IPS, which collects data on a broad set of issues including tourists’ spending in the UK, towns visited and alcohol and tobacco purchases made, among others. Given that it is not an exclusively migration-focused survey, the sample of migrants in the survey is relatively small, a fact that creates uncertainty about migration estimates. This uncertainty is especially relevant for the disaggregation of migrants across source countries given that the number of migrants interviewed from certain countries is small. As such, the ONS publishes the source of migrants using broad regional categories only.
It is also important to emphasize that the numbers and changes in net migration differ according to the source of estimates. For instance, it is possible to compare the dynamics suggested by these estimates with that of other data sources such as the Annual Population Survey (APS). LTIM estimates provide information on net migration flows (i.e. difference between immigration and emigration), while the APS provide information on the stock of migrants. The changes in the stock of migrants should reflect the level of net migration; however, there are significant differences between the estimates.
Thanks to Ann Singleton for helpful comments and suggestions in an earlier version of this briefing