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New study finds UK residents who suffered financially in the pandemic more supportive of welfare access for migrants – and that concern about Chinese immigration is high.

30 Jul 2021

A new survey of UK public attitudes toward migrants in the time of COVID has identified that people who have suffered financially as a result of the pandemic are more likely to support migrants’ access to the welfare state, The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today. 

Two new briefings Public attitudes to labour migrants in the pandemic: health and welfare and Public attitudes to labour migrants in the pandemic: occupations and nationalitypublished today on the Migration Observatory website provide details of the YouGov survey. 

The survey interviewed nearly 5000 UK residents about their views on a range of migration issues in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings also highlighted greater support, in general, for migration by people perceived to be essential workers, particularly NHS doctors and care workers, and higher levels of public concern about migration from China than from other countries. 

In terms of access to welfare for migrants, the survey’s findings found that respondents were most supportive of migrants’ access to welfare if they had been in the UK for at least five years, and more open to migrants’ access to the NHS than to Universal Credit or Housing Benefit. However, it was also evident that respondents who felt that they had been financially impacted by the pandemic were more open to migrants’ access to welfare at any stage than those who did not feel they had been economically impacted. 

Dr Marina Fernandez-Reino, one of the authors of the new briefings, said; “We know from other countries – notably the US – that one impact of the pandemic has been a backlash against Chinese and other South East Asian communities, relating to the emergence of the pandemic in China. Data from this new survey shows concerns among UK residents about Chinese immigration, though we need further analysis to know if this is a long-term trend.” 

Dr Isabel Ruiz was also an author on the briefings. She said: “One really interesting finding of the studies has been the greater openness to migrants’ access to welfare benefits among British residents who have been negatively affected economically by the pandemic. It is interesting to see that people who have lost out financially show more, rather than less, altruism in this respect.” 

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