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Changes to the migrant population of Wales 2001-2011

04 Mar 2014

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

A major analysis of the migrant population of Wales has been released today by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory. It showed that Wales’ population increased by 82% in the last decade – proportionally more than the increases in England (61%) and Northern Ireland (72%), but less than Scotland (93%).

Merthyr Tydfil saw the second biggest percentage increase in its migrant population of any district or unitary authority in Great Britain (227%) between 2001 and 2011. Wrexham, Swansea and Newport all saw their migrant populations more than double in the same period, while Cardiff saw its migrant population increase by 99% to 45,967 – Wales’ largest single migrant population.

However the profile also shows that the proportion of foreign-born people in Wales in 2011 (5.5%) was the smallest for any of the nations of the UK – compared with England: 13.8%, Scotland: 7% and Northern Ireland: 6.6%, the average for the UK as a whole was 13%. Wales’ overall migrant population was also smaller than those in eight of the nine census regions of England (the exception being the North East).

The growth in Wales’ migrant population has been fuelled by a significant (1,163%) increase in it’s Polish-born population, which increased from 1,427 in 2001 to 18,023 in 2011. Polish-born people now represent Wales’ largest migrant group and 95% of Polish-born people living in Wales have arrived since 2001.

Numbers and shares:

  • In 2011, the total usual resident population of Wales stood at 3,063,456. About 5.5% of those residents (167,871) were born outside of the UK. This represents an increase of 82% in the foreign-born population of the region since 2001.
  • In 2011, 41.6% of the non-UK born population held a UK passport, and 51.6% held only a non-UK passport. The rest (6.8%) held no passport.
  • In 2011, Wales occupied the 9th position both in terms of the population numbers and the population share of non-UK born residents, out of the ten regions of England and Wales.

Regional distribution:

  • The biggest percentage increases in Wales’ non-UK born population occurred in Merthyr Tydfil (a 227% increase) and Wrexham (168%) – these were the second and eighth largest increases in any area of England and Wales between 2001-2011.
  • Cardiff’s migrant population effectively doubled between 2001 and 2011, and it had the highest number (45,967) and share (13%) of non-UK born residents in Wales in 2011. It was also home to 27.4% of the total migrant population of Wales, compared to 11.3% of Wales’ total residents.
  • Swansea had the second highest numbers of non-UK born residents (17,233), and Newport had the second highest population share of non-UK born people (8.5%).
  • The unitary authority of Blaenau Gwent had the region’s smallest foreign-born population (1,502) and the lowest population share (2.2%). Torfean had the smallest numerical increase (651) and percentage increase (36.3%)
  • Polish-born residents accounted for just under 11% of all foreign-born people in Wales, but were not evenly spread, and constituted a much higher proportion of the migrant population in some areas such as Merthyr Tydfil (38.5%), and much lower in other, such as the Vale of Glamorgan (3.8%).

Migrant profiles:

  • Residents born in Poland represent the most numerous non-UK born group in Wales (18,023 residents) followed by residents born in Ireland (12,175) and India (11,874).
  • Polish-born residents represented 11% of the total non-UK born population residing in Wales.
  • About 97% of the population of Wales spoke English or Welsh as their main language. Of the 2.9% (84,436) that did not, 77% could speak English well or very well, and only 4% did not speak any English at all. This is a slightly lower than average level of English proficiency for England and Wales.

Dr Carlos Vargas-Silva, the Senior Researcher leading the census project at the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, said: “Wales saw an 82% increase in its migrant population in the 10 years between 2001-2011.

“The biggest change has been the increase in the Polish-born population, which increased more than twenty-fold, becoming the biggest migrant group in Wales. This has been particularly apparent in Merthyr Tydfil which saw the second largest percentage increase in its migrant population of anywhere in Great Britain.”

“But it is worth noting that Wales has the smallest proportion of migrants in its population of all of the nations of the UK. Because Wales 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 Wales, especially in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport.”


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