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Poland now the top country of birth for migrants in the UK

25 Aug 2016

New data show net migration to the UK relatively stable before the EU referendum, and that Poland has, for the first time, become the top country of birth for migrants living in the UK, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today.

The Office of National Statistics estimated that net migration to the UK was 327,000 in the year ending March 2016, before the UK’s referendum on EU membership. EU citizens continued to make up just under half of net inflows of non-UK citizens, at 180,000, or 49%. The main reason for migration during this period was work, which was cited by 73% of EU citizens and 30% of non-EU citizens.

Separate population data also show that Polish-born people have now exceeded those born in India to become the biggest foreign born population living in the UK, with a total of 831,000 people resident here in 2015. The Indian-born population stood at 795,000 in 2015. India and Ireland have traditionally been the sources of the UK’s largest foreign-born groups.

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “These data come at a time of considerable uncertainty for EU migrants living in the UK, as most EU migrants are not UK citizens. Although the government has committed in principle to allow EU migrants to remain in the UK, there are many unresolved questions about their status.”

Data on net migration after the referendum will not be available for some time. Figures for the period ending September 2016, for example, will be released in February 2017, and the full year from July 2016 to June 2017 is expected to be available in November 2017.

Sumption added: “While high levels of EU migration were a major theme in the referendum debate, predicting how they will change after Brexit is still an impossible task. We don’t yet know what policies will apply to EU citizens after Brexit. The impact of the referendum outcome on the economy – and thus whether the UK will continue to be an attractive destination for migrants looking to work in the UK- also remains uncertain.”

As the Migration Observatory noted in its pre-referendum analysis, Brexit raises the question whether the entire immigration system may be redesigned. Current immigration rules were developed in a context where free movement was a defining feature of the system.

Another unresolved question about UK migration policy is how the government will target migration levels or measure movement towards what it considers to be ‘sustainable levels’ of migration. The Migration Observatory has previously suggested that a more complete picture of migration could be gained by tracking several different metrics of migration and its impacts, instead of relying on the single measure of net migration.


For further information contact:

Rob McNeil, Head of Media and Communications, The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.

e: robert.mcneil@compas.ox.ac.uk;  Tel: 01865 274568;  Mob: 07500 970081

About the Migration Observatory

  • Based at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford, the Migration Observatory provides independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK, to inform media, public and policy debates, and to generate high quality research on international migration and public policy issues. The Observatory’s analysis involves experts from a wide range of disciplines and departments at the University of Oxford.
  • The Migration Observatory is funded by: the Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Unbound Philanthropy, and has also received support from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
  • The Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford conducts high quality research in order to develop theory and knowledge, inform policy-making and public debate, and engage users of research within the field of migration. For further details see the COMPAS website.
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