Home / press /

Changes to the migrant population of Scotland 2001-2011

02 Dec 2013

Oxford University’s Migration Observatory releases comprehensive census analysis of migrants in Scotland.

Scotland’s foreign-born population has almost doubled since 2001, a comprehensive analysis of the 2011 Census by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory revealed today.

The new Migration Observatory census profile for Scotland showed that Scotland’s foreign-born population increased by 93% between 2001 and 2011 – a bigger proportional increase than England (61%), Wales (82%) or Northern Ireland (72%).

However the profile also shows proportion of foreign-born people in Scotland’s population (7%) remains considerably smaller than that of England and Wales (13%), and Scotland’s overall migrant population is still smaller than the foreign-born populations in eight of the nine census regions of England (the exception being the North East).

The sharp growth in Scotland’s migrant population has been fuelled by a twenty-fold (2,105%) increase in the Polish-population of Scotland, which increased from 2,505 in 2001 to 55,231 in 2011. Polish-born people now represent Scotland’s largest migrant group, outnumbering the second largest group – those born in India – by more than two-to-one.

The profile is part of a suite of materials from the Migration Observatory Scotland project, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the ESRC’s Future of the UK and Scotland programme to inform the referendum debate.

Dr Carlos Vargas-Silva, the Senior Researcher leading the census project at the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, said: “This is the last census before the referendum on independence, and population is an important part of the discussion. While Scotland still has a much smaller foreign-born population than England, it has almost doubled in a decade. By far the biggest change has been the increase in the Polish-born population, which increased more than twenty-fold, becoming the biggest migrant group in Scotland.

“But because Scotland started with a much smaller migrant population than England – both numerically and in terms of its share of the overall population – smaller numerical growth can be considerably bigger growth in percentage terms. Nevertheless, there has been a large increase in the migrant population of Scotland, especially in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh.”

Numbers and shares:

  • In 2011, the total usual resident population of Scotland stood at an estimated 5,295,403 residents, 7% of whom were born outside of the UK. This represents a 92.8% increase from 191,571 in 2001 to 369,284 in 2011.
  • In 2011, Scotland had a smaller non-UK born share within its local population (7%) than England & Wales (13%).
  • However, the non-UK born population increased at a higher rate in Scotland (by 93%) than in England and Wales (by 62%) between 2001 and 2011.
  • Nearly two thirds (63%) of non-UK born people resident in Scotland in 2011 arrived in the UK since 2001.

Regional distribution:

  • The Edinburgh council area had the highest number (75,698) of non-UK born residents in the region, while Aberdeen council area had highest population share (16%).
  • Between 2001 and 2011, the largest numerical increase in the non-UK born population took place in Glasgow City (39,917 additional residents), but the highest percentage increase occurred in Aberdeen City (167.2% increase).
  • The foreign-born share of the population was lowest in East Ayrshire, where the 2,774 non-UK born residents accounted for 2% of the local population.
  • The smallest numerical increase in the non-UK born population occurred in Inverclyde, where the non-UK born population grew by estimated 72 residents. This amounts to a 3.5% increase between 2001 and 2011, the lowest for all Scottish council areas.

Migrant profiles:

  • Residents born in Poland represent the most numerous non-UK born group in Scotland (55,231), followed by residents born in India (23,489) and Ireland (22,952).
  • Polish-born residents represented 15% of the total non-UK born population residing in Scotland

A further discussion of the data is available here and more analysis of the implications of migration for Scottish independence is available here.


Press Contact

If you would like to make a press enquiry, please contact:

Rob McNeil

+ 44 (0)7500 970081

 Contact Us 


This Migration Observatory is kindly supported by the following organisations.

  • University of Oxford logo
  • COMPAS logo
  • Esmee Fairbairn logo
  • Barrow Cadbury Trust logo
  • Paul Hamlyn Foundation logo