Note: 'Ambiguous categories' include migrants listed in Home Office data under descriptions that do not refer to spouses’ nationality, such as 'same-sex partner', 'common-law spouse,' and 'granted settlement due to death of spouse or domestic violence after leave to remain granted as a spouse'.
Settlement in the UK
This briefing gives details about how many non-European migrants are granted settlement in the UK every year, their demographic characteristics and the various bases for their grants of settlement.
- In 2011, there were 166,878 grants of settlement to non-European migrants, a decrease of 31% from 241,192 in 2010.
- Settlements in 2005-2009 averaged 156,428 per annum, increasing from 125,645 p.a. in the previous five-year period and 68,570 p.a. from 1995-1999.
- In 2011, 42% of settlements were granted on the basis of employment and residency (including dependents of labour migrants), 32% were granted on the basis of family formation and reunification, 18% were granted for “other discretionary reasons”, many of which are linked to a backlog of asylum cases, and and 8% were granted on the basis of asylum.
- In 2011, among migrants granted settlement the most common countries of citizenship were India (19% of all settlements) and Pakistan (9%).
- At least 87% of settlements on the basis of marriage in 2011 were granted to spouses of British citizens.
Understanding the evidence
Annual grants of settlement have been increasing over the past 20 years, but dropped in 2011, as shown in Figure 1. There were 166,878 grants of settlement to non-EEA/Swiss nationals, a decrease of 31% from 241,192 in 2010. The 2010 total was the largest one year total on record, The trend over the past two decades has been mostly steady growth. Annual settlements averaged 54,065 in the five-year period from 1990-1994, and grew in each of the next five-year periods to 68,570 per annum (1995-1999), 125,645 p.a. (2000-2004), and 156,428 p.a. (2005-2009). There is reason to think that the 2009-2010 peak was an outlier to this trend of slower increase. Much of this peak was driven by “other discretionary” settlement grants stemming from a programme to clear a backlog of unsuccessful asylum seekers, discussed in further detail below.
The apparent interruption in the increasing trend between 2006 and 2008 may represent changes in policy and record-keeping, rather than an actual change in patterns of migration and settlement application (see evidence gaps and limitations below). In April 2006 the residency requirement for settlement grants for migrants in work-based categories changed from four years to five years. This would temporarily reduce settlement as people waited an additional year for eligibility, but then lead to additional pent-up demand once the wait ended.
Figure 2 shows considerable fluctuation over time in the most common bases of settlement grants. In 2011, asylum was the only major basis of settlement grants that increased in number, from 4,931 grants to 13,003. Family and employment (including dependents) decreased between 2010 and 2011.
But long-term trends have been different. Grants on the basis of employment and residency (including dependents) increased from 9,910 in 1997 to 84,347 in 2010 before falling to 69,892 in 2011. Employment is now the most frequent category of settlement grant, at 42% of the total after representing 17% of the total in 1997. The temporary decline from 2006-2008 probably stemmed from the changes in policy and record-keeping described above.
Family members (excluding dependents) accounted for 56% of settlement grants in 1997, but fell to 32% in 2011. Still, the family category rose in actual number of grants, from 32,985 in 1997 to 72,239 in 2009 before falling to 54,086 by 2011.By contrast, asylum (including dependents) fell in both absolute terms and as a share of settlements, from 20% of settlements in 1997 (11,780 grants) to 2% in 2010 (4,931 grants), before increasing again but to only 8% of grants (13,003) in 2011. But this overall trend obscures an increase from 1997-2005. The peak in 2005 (67,810 grants) came from the Family ILR Exercise (Home Office 2010: 38), which granted settlement to some asylum seekers whose cases had not been decided after three years or more of living in the UK. The decline after 2005 probably stems partly from a long-term drop in numbers of asylum seekers, and partly from the temporary effects of another policy change. In August 2005, the UK stopped granting immediate settlement to refugees and other asylum applicants, switching instead to granting limited leave to remain, with the opportunity to apply for settlement after five more years of UK residence. Thus, new refugees granted leave to remain in 2006 would not be eligible for settlement until 2011. So the increase in 2011 was a predictable result of this policy change.
Former asylum seekers are also well-represented in settlement grants in the “other discretionary” category. This category includes (though is not limited to) efforts to resolve a backlog of unsuccessful asylum applicants who continued to live in the UK (Home Office 2010: 124, xvii). The Home Office states that the programme began by prioritising candidates for removal, and then progressed to those who “may be allowed to stay in the UK”. The goal was to resolve cases over a five year period, so again the decrease in 2011 was predictable. Available data do not show how much of the increase in other discretionary grants can be attributed to this programme. But it is clear that other discretionary grants increased more than ten-fold from 2006 to 2010. In 2006, this category comprised 6% of settlement grants, with 7,720 such grants (including dependents). By 2010, other discretionary grants (including dependent children) had increased to 82,295, or 34% of total grants, before falling to 29,547 in 2011 (18% of total grants).
By nationality, as shown in Figure 3, the majority (53%) of migrant settlements in 2011 came from Asia (not including the Middle East). Africa (25%) is next, followed by the Americas (8%). Asian nationals account for most of the increase since 2004, increasing by 88% from 47,050 to 88,528. Grants to nationals from Africa and the Middle East each increased by less than 3,000. Grants to European nationals declined by 64% since 2004, no doubt because EU expansion reduced the need for many European nationals to apply for settlement in Britain.(Note that the Home Office’s preferred regional categories no longer disaggregate the Indian sub-continent from the rest of Asia, though these can still be calculated from the country-by-country statistics available within the Home Office’s Immigration Statistics online in their Table se.03).
The most frequent countries of origin for 2010 migrants granted settlement were India (19% of all settlements) and Pakistan (9%), as shown in Figure 4. Other nationalities not in the top ten comprised 43% of all settlement grants.
As Figure 5 shows, the demographics of migrants granted settlement in 2011 leans toward the young and female. Sixty-six per cent of migrants granted settlement after fulfilling residency requirements in 2011 were under 35 years of age. Fifty-two per cent overall were female, and change from 2010 when 53 per cent were male. Women were a majority in the 16-24, 25-34, and 60+ age groups. Children were slightly more than 50% male, as in 2010.
Family settlements mainly spouses and children; most spouses granted settlement have British partner
As shown above in Figure 2 family (excluding dependents) has fallen behind employment to become the second most common basis for settlement grants. However, looking at the data another way by combining family route settlement with grants to dependent family members of migrants in other categories, then family and dependents together would become the largest category of settlement grants, at 61% of the total. Looking more closely at the family relationships upon which settlement claims are founded shows that spouses (including unmarried and civil partners) predominate, followed by children. For migrants gaining settlement as either a family migrant or a dependent in 2011, Figure 6 shows the relationship to the British citizen (or migrant with settlement, or migrant gaining settlement at the same time) that forms the basis of their settlement grant. Most family-based settlement grants go to spouses and children of British citizens (or migrants with or obtaining UK settlement), as opposed to other types of relations. Out of all family and dependents granted settlement in 2011, 59% were spouses (59,656). Of these, there were more than twice as many wives or female partners (40,066) as husbands or male partners (19,590). Children were 35% (35,698) of family and dependent settlement grants, and 2% were parents or grandparents (1,783), and 4% (4,307) were other or unspecified relatives. Figure 6 shows these figures over time. Note that the total for the spouses/partners category includes the husbands/male partners and wives/female partners categories, and that partners includes civil partners and fiancé(e)s.
The majority of migrants granted settlement as spouses are married to or partners of British citizens, as opposed to settled or settling migrants. As Figure 7 shows, in 2011 data, at least 87% of migrant spouses granted settlement had a British spouse or partner, while at least 7% had a spouse who was settled or settling in the UK but not a British citizen. The remaining 8% were classified in categories for which the citizenship of their spouse was not specified, such as “common law spouse” or “granted settlement on arrival” (see Home Office Immigration Statistics, settlement tables for more detail).
Home Office data are actual counts of grants of settlement, rather than estimates. For a small percentage of grants, the basis for the grant is missing and categorized as unknown, but otherwise data are relatively problem-free.
However, changes in trends may results from changes in policy or internal record-keeping, rather than actual changes in the numbers of migrants coming to live and settle in the UK. For example, as discussed above, significant changes in the number and bases of settlement grants since 2005 are attributable to changing methods of handling backlogs of asylum applications (Home Office 2010: 38-40). The related rise in “other discretionary” grants creates additional problems for analysis, as we do not have further information on the people granted settlement in this category—for example, how many are main applicants and how many are dependents, and what are their characteristics, such as age, gender, and nationality?
In addition, settlement data exclude EEA/Swiss nationals. People with these nationalities are probably unlikely to seek ILR, since it is costly and confers little additional benefit to those already in the EU. Family settlement corresponds only imperfectly with family migration, as shown in Home Office analysis of the migration histories of all people granted settlement in 2009 (Achato et al. 2010). (This Home Office analysis, reported in The Migrant Journey, groups dependents with the main applicant in the family; dependents are not considered part of the “family route” to settlement.) The Home Office report shows that, among the group of migrants granted settlement in 2009, 40% of settlement grants were given on the “family route” basis (again, excluding dependents). In contrast, within the same group (migrants gaining settlement in 2009), 34% had initially entered the UK as “family” migrants (i.e. gaining permission to come to the UK as the family member of a British citizen or settled resident). Others who were granted settlement as family members had gained initial permission to enter the UK as workers or students, and then transferred to the family route before settlement (probably through marriage in most cases).
Finally, 15% of people granted settlement in 2009 were settled “upon entry”, or as their first recorded contact with the immigration control system (Achato et al. 2010). Only a part of this group is well-accounted for, while another portion (about 3% of total settlements in 2009) represents a gap in the data. As shown in The Migrant Journey, a proportion of settlements each year are granted to migrants without record of an initial entry visa into the UK. This number has increased in recent years, as it seems to include “other discretionary grants”, or at least overlaps with this category. In the Migrant Journey’s study of settlements granted in 2009, this group comprised 15% of the total of 176,470 records they examined (25,770, according to calculations based on Migrant Journey Table B1). Most of this group—22,850 people—entered the system in 2009 and received settlement in the same year; the report examines this group in further detail. Of these 22,850 settlements, 14% were granted out-of-country, mostly for family reunion purposes, while 86% (about 19,650) were granted to people already in the UK. About half of these fell into one of three categories: dependent children, long-term UK residents (14 years or more), or recipients of settlement on compassionate grounds (Achato et al. 2010:12).
Of the in-country grants, another 27% went to migrants who had originally come to the UK with visitor visas, which could include tourists or people visiting family members in the UK. The Home Office promises further analysis of these cases to determine their route to settlement. The Home Office was not able to track the remainder of cases (about 23% of the 19,650 in-country grants, or about 4,520 individuals). The report speculates that some may have entered before the construction of the current Home Office database, while others may have entered clandestinely and become eligible on long-residency or compassionate grounds (although it is not clear why the latter set of cases would not appear in the initial half of in-country grants, which includes compassionate and long-residency bases).
- Achato, Lorrah, Mike Eaton, and Chris Jones. “The Migrant Journey.” Research Report 43, Home Office, London, 2010.
- Home Office. “Control of Immigration: Statistics United Kingdom 2009.” Statistical Bulletin, Home Office, London, 2010.
- Castles, Stephen. “Guestworkers in Europe: A Resurrection?” International Migration Review 40, no. 4 (2006): 741-766.
- Castles, Stephen and Mark J. Miller. The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World, 4th ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009: 33-43.