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Healthy, wealthy and wise? New analysis from the Migration Observatory looks at migrant integration

17 Jul 2019

Migrants to the UK are healthier than the UK-born population, have similar employment rates, and nine out of ten say they speak English well, new analysis from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford shows.

The briefings are the first in a new project providing data on different dimensions of migrant integration in the UK. They show that there is no single way of measuring integration and that how migrants fare in the UK varies widely depending on where they are from, their gender and their age.

For example, Eastern Europeans have high employment rates among both men and women, and enjoy good health outcomes in the UK. But they are also more likely to be overqualified for their jobs: 56% of those with higher education were working in low or lower-middle skilled roles in 2018. Over-qualification is common across migrant groups and suggests that the UK labour market is less efficient at exploiting migrants’ qualifications than those of the UK born.

One of the most notable findings is that migrants are significantly healthier than the UK-born. The share of foreign-born people reporting a health condition of any sort (26%) was 15 percentage points lower than for the UK born (41%). This is not just because they are younger: below the age of 50, health outcomes are better for migrants even when comparing people of the same age.

Mariña Fernández-Reino, the Migration Observatory researcher who conducted the analysis, explained: “The data show that there is a ‘healthy migrant’ effect in the UK – which is seen in other countries too. People who decide to migrate are often healthier than those who stay behind, while those with health problems are more likely to return to their countries of origin.”

However, the data also suggest that migrants’ health advantage decreases over time. Some communities, particularly those with a long history of residence in the UK and with a larger elderly community, had worse, rather than better health outcomes.

The briefings show that nine out of ten foreign-born people living in the UK spoke English well or very well and that less than 2% of migrants reported being unable to speak English. English language use is closely related to the length of time migrants have lived in the UK, and those who have recently arrived are most likely to say that language barriers have been a problem. Among those who had been in the UK for more than 15 years, 67% had adopted English as their first language at home.

Dr Fernández-Reino added: “How well migrants fare depends not just on who they are and what they do, but also the society and economy they are entering. In some respects, the UK has an advantage over other countries, because it is so common for people to know some English before migrating. The UK’s flexible labour market has also meant that employment rates for migrants are relatively high – although this is often at the cost of ‘brain waste’, with large numbers overqualified for their jobs. It also matters how long migrants have lived here, since integration is a process that happens over time.”

Average employment rates of migrants (74%) were similar to those of the UK-born (76%) but this masks significant variations between men and women.  Among men, migrants were more likely to be employed than the UK born (83% vs 79% in 2018); among women, migrants were less likely to be in work (66% vs 72%), and there were much larger gender employment gaps for some countries of origin, such the Middle East and Central Asia. The major exception to this trend is EU-born women, who had significantly higher employment rates than women born in the UK.

Further briefings for this project will look at additional dimensions of integration, such as experiences of discrimination, social networks and financial security.

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