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Spain, Italy and Portugal join Poland, Romania and Hungary as key countries driving the growth of the UK’s EU migrant population (Pre-referendum)

13 Apr 2016

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Three crisis-hit Eurozone countries rank alongside eastern European accession countries as the EU member states whose UK-resident populations have grown the most between 2011 and 2015, a new commentary from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford shows today.

The latest analysis – Pulling Power: Why Are EU Citizens Migrating to the UK? – analyses key domestic and international factors that could have made the UK an attractive destination for EU migrants in recent years. The commentary is part of a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

Six countries – Poland, Romania, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Portugal – have been responsible for 80% of the growth in the UK’s EU-born population since 2011.

While some of the factors encouraging migration to the UK are permanent (such as the attraction of the English language and the presence of well-established migrant communities here), others have the potential to change over time. Economic factors like high unemployment in southern Europe and lower wages in Eastern Europe, for example, are likely to be key drivers of recent migration. How they will evolve in coming years is difficult to predict.

The gap in average disposable incomes between UK and Poland (adjusted for purchasing power) has almost halved since mid-2000s, but the gap with Romania remains significant.

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “There is no single factor driving high levels of EU migration in recent years. Some drivers are likely to remain in place for some years, such as the relatively low wages in new EU member states, particularly Romania. Others could potentially dissipate more quickly, like high unemployment in Spain.”

The commentary notes that it is too early to tell how the introduction of the National Living Wage will affect migration: while it may increase the financial advantage of moving to the UK from a lower-income EU country, it could also push UK employers to rely less on low-wage workers, including those from the EU.

Sumption added: “Despite recent debates about the role of UK policies like welfare benefits or the minimum wage in driving migration, migration may respond more to factors that governments don’t directly control, like demographics and economic growth in other EU countries.”

Recent increases in migration from key southern and eastern European countries of origin have taken place despite declining numbers of youth – the people most likely to migrate – in those countries. The population of 20-34-year-olds in Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain has declined by 6.3 million – or about 15% – since 2006.


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

Notes for editors
This commentary was undertaken with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) The UK in a Changing Europe Initiative. www.UKandEU.ac.uk

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: www.compas.ox.ac.uk/.

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