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Projected Number of Foreign-born Residents in Local Areas for 2014

06 Mar 2015

In order to inform the debate on immigration as the general election approaches, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford has put together a suite of information about migrant numbers at the local level.

This project provides information on the number of foreign-born people from EU and non-EU countries in different local areas of England. This includes data from the 2011 Census, as well as Migration Observatory extrapolations or projections of local-area populations in 2014. The projections are not official statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and only intend to provide an idea of the likely number of foreign-born residents in different local areas of England as of 2014, based on assumptions about migration patterns between 2011 and 2014. The methodology and its limitations are explained in detail below.

This publication arises from research funded by the University of Oxford’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account.


  • Accession countries = countries which joined the European Union in 2004 and which had a low per capita income compared to the UK (i.e. Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary and Estonia). It also includes countries which joined the European Union in 2007 (i.e. Bulgaria and Romania). Workers from these countries have unrestricted access to the UK labour market since 1 January 2014.
  • Census = A census is a count of people and households, and is used to set policies and estimate the resources required to provide services for the population. In the UK it is conducted every 10 years.
  • Labour Force Survey = The Labour Force Survey (LFS) is a survey of the employment circumstances of the UK population. It is the largest household survey in the UK and provides the official measures of employment and unemployment.
  • Old EU countries = those countries that were members of the EU before 2004. It includes: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
  • Non-EU countries = those countries which are not members of the European Union.
  • NINos = National Insurance Number – Unique identifying numbers given to all people born in the UK and to non-UK nationals over 16 who are planning to work and/or claim benefits in the UK.
  • GP registrations = Migrant GP registrations refer to cases where someone who has registered with a GP in England and Wales was previously living overseas. This includes individuals born outside the UK who enter England and Wales for the first time and register with the NHS, or a GP.

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Who counts as a migrant?

When analysing the nature of migration, defining who counts as a migrant is of crucial importance. Yet there is no consensus on a single definition of a ‘migrant’. Different datasets – and analyses from these datasets – use a variety of definitions of ‘migrant’, including (1) country of birth, (2) nationality, (3) passports held, (4) length of stay, (5) reason for migration and (6) being subject to immigration controls. For example, people who are foreign-born are not all foreign nationals; likewise, some foreign nationals may have lived in the UK for decades while others reside in the UK for only a year.

Perhaps most importantly, not all foreign-born UK residents are subject to immigration control. Some are the children born abroad of UK national parent(s) -e.g. service personnel. Others are long-term residents who have acquired British citizenship. EEA nationals are also not subject to immigration control, yet are often considered migrants in public debate and in ONS net migration counts. The data analysed in this report are based on country of birth. It is important to note that many of those included in the foreign-born category will have British citizenship.

See the Migration Observatory briefing ‘Who Counts as a Migrant: Definitions and their Consequences‘ for more information.

The importance of the census

The census is the most complete source of information about the UK population. It is particularly useful for obtaining population estimates for small geographical areas and information on the characteristics of such a population, such as their country of birth. Other sources of information on population characteristics in the UK such as the Labour Force Survey have larger margins of error at the local level, because they are based on survey data and rely on a limited number of observations at the local level. The census is based on a count of people and households, with efforts to include everyone and it is supplemented by a survey to detect and estimate those who are missed. The latest UK censuses were conducted during 2011, with 27 March 2011 as the official census day of record.

See the Migration Observatory video interview of Peter Stokes, 2011 Census Statistical Design Manager, for further discussion.

Creating a useful ‘projection’

The limitation of the census is that the information is only available every ten years. This means that the data can get outdated quickly. One way to update these numbers is to complement the information from the census with other sources such as the Labour Force Survey. The Migration Observatory projections have done this by taking five steps:

  1. For each region of England (West Midlands, etc.) estimate the number of migrants from Old EU, Accession and Non-EU countries using the LFS 2011.
  2. For each region of England (West Midlands, etc.) estimate the number of migrants from Old EU, Accession and Non-EU countries using the LFS 2014.
  3. Take the absolute difference between (2) and (1) for each region and migrant group.
  4. Calculate a percentage change by dividing (3) by the number of migrants in that region from the 2011 Census.
  5. Using local area data from the Census as baseline, assume that the population of Old EU, Accession and Non-EU born individuals increased by the same percentage as in (4).

By way of example, the project for the number of non-EU born migrants in Oxford is calcuated as follows:

  1. Non-EU born population of the South East = 637,000 according to 2011 LFS.
  2. Non-EU born population of the South East = 676,000 according to 2014 LFS.
  3. Growth in Non-EU born in South East = 38,000.
  4. Census Non-EU population for South East = 725,000. Percent growth in South East = 38,000/725,000 = 5%
  5. 2011 Census for Oxford = 30,600, so 2014 extrapolation for Oxford would be 32,300 (i.e. 5% growth).

Note that these numbers have been rounded for ease of presentation. The Migration Observatory calculations are performed with non-rounded figures.

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All exercises of this kind have limitations. Please bear this in mind when using the data:

  • The numbers are based on projections, not actual counts of migrants (defined as those born abroad). They should thus be treated as estimates, not facts. Other legitimate methodologies exist that may produce slightly different results.
  • The purpose of the exercise is not to produce precise numbers, but to give a general picture of how migrant populations are likely to have changed since 2011 to inform debate ahead of the general election. Small changes or detailed localised effects, in particular, cannot be measured precisely. Percentage growth in regional migration populations may reflect statistical error rather than real changes.
  • The figures are not official statistics and should not be used in the same way as official statistics (for example, for justifying funding allocations or planning public services).
  • ONS produces its own local area estimates. These are currently only available for 2013 and do include breakdowns by region of origin (e.g. EU, non-EU) and for each individual country in underlying data sheets. ONS figures are official estimates and the 2014 figures should therefore be used when they become available in August 2015.
  • The projections are based on a strong assumption that the geographical distribution of new migrants will be the same within each region in 2014 as in 2011. Migration patterns could respond to local events that unexpectedly increase or decrease the attractiveness of the area for migrants (e.g. many new business locating in the area and recruiting migrants). Local events could also affect Old EU, Accession and Non-EU nationals differently.
  • The 2011 Census counted a different number of foreign born people than the 2011 LFS. This difference is assumed to be a discrepancy between the LFS and the Census. The projections are based on the assumption that this discrepancy would remain the same if another Census were conducted in 2014, and can thus be added directly to the 2014 LFS number of residents within each region and country of birth broad group.

Projection maps

Projection tables

Table 1 – All foreign-born residents

RegionForeign-born 2011 CensusForeign-born 2014 extrapolation2014-2011 difference2014-2011 % difference
East Midlands4480004930004500010
North East1290001550002600020
North West577000625000480008
South East10430001122000790008
South West405000435000300007
West Midlands630000678000480008
Yorkshire and the Humber4650005140004900011
Average across regions6300010

Table 2 – EU-born residents

RegionEU-born 2011 CensusEU-born 2014 extrapolation2014-2011 difference2014-2011 % difference
East213000238,000 25,000 12% 
East Midlands140000154,000 14,000 10% 
London711000872,000 161,000 23% 
North East3600052,000 16,000 44% 
North West144000185,000 41,000 28% 
South East319000359,000 40,000 13% 
South West1510000160,000 9,000 6% 
West Midlands136000169,000 33,000 24% 
Yorkshire and the Humber131000158,000 27,000 21% 
Average across regions4100020% 
England19810002,347,000 366,000 18% 

Table 3 – Non EU-born residents

RegionNon EU-born 2011 CensusNon EU-born 2014 extrapolation2014-2011 difference2014-2011 % difference
East Midlands3080003390003100010
North East930001040001100012
North West43300044100080002
South East725000763000380005
South West254000274000200008
West Midlands494000509000150003
Yorkshire and the Humber334000356000220007
Average across regions220006


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