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Migrants in the UK Labour Market: An Overview

31 Jul 2018

This briefing provides an overview of the employment levels and employment shares of migrants in the UK economy as a whole, and in specific sectors and occupations.

  1. Key Points
    • The share of foreign-born people in total employment increased from 7.2% in 1993 to 18.0% in 2017 and the share of foreign-citizens increased from 3.5% to 12.8% over the same period
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    • The share of EU workers in total employment increased from 2.3% in 1993 to 7.6% in 2017, and the share of Non-EU workers in total employment increased from 4.9% in 1993 to 10.3% in 2017
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    • EU born workers are over-represented in the least skilled occupations and non-EU born workers are over-represented in professional jobs
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    • In 2017 one every four EU migrants were employed in the retail, wholesale and hospitality industries, while 30% of non-EU born workers were in public administration and education
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    • Just over 40% of food and drink processing workers were EU born in 2017, and one quarter of doctors were non-EU born
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  1. Understanding the Evidence

    Migrants can be defined in at least three different ways: by place of birth (i.e. foreign-born), nationality (i.e. foreign citizens), and length of stay in the UK. As the foreign-born definition is most commonly used in UK debates and analyses, it is the default definition used in this briefing. Wherever relevant and indicated, this briefing also provides figures for foreign citizens residing in the UK, as well as for recent migrants – defined as foreign-born people who have been living in the UK for 5 years or less. The focus is on those migrants of working age defined as 16 to 64. The briefing draws on data from the UK’s Labour Force Survey (LFS) conducted by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS).

    Like most survey data, the LFS has some limitations. The survey does not capture those who do not live in private households, such as in hotels, caravan parks and other communal establishments. Its response rate has declined over time, and is now below 50% (ONS, 2016); this means that people who are more likely not to respond to the survey may be under-counted, and ONS analysis based on the Census suggests that non-response is a greater problem among people born outside of the UK (Weeks et al, n.d.).

The share of foreign-born people in total employment increased from 7.2% in 1993 to 18.0% in 2017

Figure 1 shows the share of migrants in total employment. The share of foreign-born persons in total employment increased from 7.2% in 1993 to 18.0% in 2017. In 2017, foreign-citizens made up 12.8% of total employment, up from 3.5% in 1993.

Figure 1

Source: author’s analysis of Labour Force Survey, 1993-2017, weighted average of 4 quarters. Note: age 16-64 only

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EU-born people made up 7.6% of working-age employment in 2017 and the non-EU born made up 10.3%

Figure 2 shows the share of EU and Non-EU migrants in total employment. The share of EU working-age foreign-born people in the UK increased from 2.3% in 1993 to 7.6% in 2017 (see Figure 2).

Non-EU working-age foreign-born people represent a higher share of the total employment compared to the EU. Their share has increased from 4.9% in 1993 to 10.3% in 2017.

Figure 2

Source: author’s analysis of LFS, weighted average of 4 quarters. Note: The term “employment” is based on the ILO/OECD definition and refers to all workers aged 16 to 64 who are “at work” both part time and full time as employees, self- employed, or under a government scheme; includes working age only, 16-64

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EU born workers are over-represented in the least skilled occupations and non-EU born workers are over-represented in professional jobs

In 2017 EU-born workers were overrepresented in elementary occupations (e.g. cleaners, kitchen and catering assistants) and skilled trades (e.g. building trades, carpenters and chefs) (see Table 1). About 21% of EU foreign-born workers were employed in elementary compared to about 10% of their UK-born counterparts. About 13% were employed in skilled trades. There can sometimes be a mismatch between an individual’s educational attainment and the skill level required for his or her job in the UK. Specific groups of foreign-born workers (e.g. recent migrants from the A8 countries) are known to be frequently employed in jobs that do not correspond with their education and skills.

Non-EU-born workers were over-represented in professional occupations – over one every four Non-EU -born workers. They are also over-represented in elementary occupations, although the share is lower than that of EU (12%).

Table 1

Occupational distribution for foreign-born and UK-born workers in 2017

 EUNon-EUUK Born
Total2,354,0001003,172,00010025,196,000100
Number%Number%Number%
Managerial167,0007.1350,000112,681,00010.6
Professional 382,00016.2819,00025.85,017,00019.9
Associate professional246,00010.5369,00011.63,819,00015.2
Administrative156,0006.6257,0008.12,730,00010.8
Skilled trades300,00012.7221,00072,689,00010.7
Personal service186,0007.9325,00010.32,402,0009.5
Sales141,0006238,0007.52,003,0008
Processing283,00012210,0006.61,460,0005.8
Elementary occupation491,00020.9382,00012.12,395,0009.5
Source: author’s analysis of Labour Force Survey, Q1-Q4. Occupational categories derived from the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC 2000)

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Retail, wholesale and hospitality are the largest group of industries employing the EU born, while non-EU born workers are more likely to be in public administration and education

In 2017 one every four EU migrants were employed in retail, wholesale, and hospitality. However, EU foreign-born workers are also employed in higher skill sectors such as banking and finance (17%) and public administration or education (18%). While one every 5 non-EU migrants is employed in the retail, wholesale and hospitality, about 30% are employed in the public administration and education sectors, and 20% are employed in banking and finance. A higher share of EU-born migrants is employed in the manufacturing sector (15%) compared to the non-EU born (6%). Looking at UK-born workers nearly one every three of UK-born workers are employed in public administration and education, while the percentage employed in retail, hotels and restaurant is lower than both the EU and Non-EU workers.

Table 2

Industry distribution foreign-born and UK-born workers, 2017

 EUNon-EUUK-Born
Total 2,345,0001003,169,00010025,115,000100
Numbers%Numbers%Numbers%
Agriculture, forestry and fishing24,000111,0000.3263,0001.1
Energy and water33,0001.435,0001.1461,0001.8
Manufacturing339,00014.5191,00062,305,0009.2
Construction206,0008.8127,00041,912,0007.6
Retail, hotels and restaurants575,00024.5647,00020.44,537,00018.1
Transport and communication235,00010407,00012.82,130,0008.5
Banking and finance400,00017640,00020.24,202,00016.7
Public administration and education 420,00017.9946,00029.97,792,00031
Other services114,0004.9165,0005.21,512,0006
Notes: Based on Labour Force Survey 2017, Q1-Q4; retail category includes wholesale and repair of vehicles

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Just over 40% of food and drink processing workers were EU born in 2017, and one quarter of doctors were non-EU born

The increase in the share of EU foreign-born workers in employment in the UK has been highly differentiated across occupations and sectors. Although EU-born workers are employed in a wide range of jobs, the growth in employment shares of EU foreign-born workers in recent years has been fastest among lower-skilled occupations and sectors.

Table 3 shows the detailed occupational categories in which EU-born and non-EU born workers, respectively, make up the largest shares

In 2017, 46% of workers in elementary process plant occupations (e.g. industry cleaning process occupation and packers, bottlers, canners and fillers), 41% in Food, drink and tobacco process, were EU foreign-born. In 2017, 38% of taxi/cab drivers and chauffeurs, 27% of security guards and related occupation, and 27% of shopkeepers and proprietors were Non-EU foreign born migrants. Moreover, one in every four medical practitioners in the UK is a Non-EU foreign-born migrant.

Table 3

Top 10 occupations of foreign-born workers, 2017

 EUNon-EU
% EU workersNumber % non-EU workersNumber
1Packers, bottlers, canners and fillers4662,000Taxi/cab drivers and chauffeurs3876,000
2Food, drink and tobacco process4160,000Security guards and related occupations2749,000
3Housekeepers and related occupation2710,000Shopkeepers and proprietors2733,000
4Fork-lift truck drivers2419,000Chefs2666,000
5Elementary storage occupations2295,000Medical practitioners2564,000
6Routine inspectors and testers2115,000IT and telecommunications professional2444,000
7Chefs2052,000Authors, writers and translators2317,000
8Metal working machine operatives2012,000Programmers and software developers2162,000
9Cleaning and housekeeping managers1914,000Legal professionals not elsewhere classified2111,000
10Cleaners and domestics19102,000IT project and programme managers2115,000
Note: occupation share indicates the share of total employment represented by the occupation; excludes occupations with fewer than 10,000 EU or non-EU workers respectively

Source: Labour Force Survey 2017, Q1-Q4

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Manufacture of food products was the industry with the highest share of EU foreign-born labour in 2017

In 2017 the industry with the highest share of EU foreign-born workers in its workforce was food products manufacturing, where about 31% of the workforce was foreign-born (see Table 4). The industry with the second highest share of EU foreign-born workers was domestic personnel (27%) followed by accommodation services (19%).

Table 4 shows that Non-EU migrants are concentrated in security-related activities (24%), followed by information service activities (19%), and computer programming and consultancy (18%). Non-EU migrants are also concentrated in lower skilled sectors. These food and beverage service activities (15%), residential care activities (15%), and postal and courier activities (15%).

Table 4

Top 10 sectors of EU and Non-EU foreign-born workers, 2017

 Top 10 by workforce share, EU migrants%NumberTop 10 by workforce share, Non-EU migrantsIndustry share (%)Number
1Manufacture of food products31100,000Security related activities2548,000
2Domestic personnel2714,000Land transport 18134,000
3Accommodation1966,000Computer programming and consultancy18123,000
4 Warehousing & support for transport1659,000Travel, tour operator, reservation1720,000
5Manufacture wood and wood products1611,000Food and beverage service activities16222,000
6Manufacture rubber plastic products1521,000Residential care activities15141,000
7 Services to buildings and landscape1487,000Postal and courier activities1544,000
8Construction of buildings14115,000Auxiliary to financial and insurance1562,000
9Scientific research and development1418,000Head offices; management consultancy1464,000
10Food and beverage service activities12169,000Human health activities14316,000
Note: sector share indicates the share of total employment represented by the occupation. Age 16-64 only; excludes occupations with fewer than 10,000 EU or non-EU workers respectively

Source: Labour Force Survey 2017 Q1-Q4

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Evidence gaps and limitations

Constraints due to sample size mean that it often not possible to identify small changes in the employment profiles of migrants over time, or to analyse the occupational profiles of small subgroups of migrants (e.g. individual countries of birth)The aggregate occupational categories used in this briefing (e.g. ‘elementary occupations’ or ‘professional occupations’ are also imperfect as a measure of occupational skill. While using aggregated occupational groups are useful for providing an overview of jobs performed, in practice they can contain a wide range of jobs including workers with quite different levels of pay or working conditions.

References

  • Aldin, V., James, D. and Wadsworth, J. “The Changing Shares of Migrant Labour in Different Sectors and Occupations in the UK Economy: an Overview.” In Who Needs Migrant Workers? Labour Shortages, Immigration, and Public Policy, edited by Martin Ruhs and Bridget Anderson. Oxford: OUP, 2010
  • Dustmann, C., Frattini, T. and Halls, C. “Assessing the Fiscal Costs and Benefits of A8 Migration to the UK.” Fiscal Studies 31 (2010):1-41
  • ONS. 2016. Labour Force Survey – user guidance. Volume 1: Background and Methodology
  • Select Committee on Economic Affairs, House of Lords. “The Economic Impact of Immigration.” House of Lords, London, 2008
  • Ruhs, M. and Anderson, B. Who Needs Migrant Workers? Labour Shortages, Immigration and Public Policy, Oxford: OUP, 2010
  • Weeks, A., Fallows, A., Broad, P., Merad, S. and Ashworth, K. No date. Non-response Weights for the UK Labour Force Survey? Results from the Census Non-response Link Study. Office of National Statistics.

Further readings

  • Dustmann,C., F. Fabbri, and I. Preston. “The Impact of Immigration on the UK Labour Market.” Economic Journal 115 (2005): F324-41
  • Larorre, M. and H. Reed. “The Economic Impact of Migration on the UK Labour Market.” Economics of Migration Working Paper 3, Institute for Public Policy Research, London, 2009
  • Nickell, S. and J. Salaheen. “The Impact of Immigration on Occupational Wages: British Evidence.” Working paper, Nuffield College, Oxford, 2008

Related material

With thanks to Bridget Anderson, Martin Ruhs, Carlos Vargas-Silva, Mary Gregory and Madeleine Sumption for comments and suggestions on an earlier version of the briefing

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