EU immigration to the UK

Published: 23 Feb 2017

In the 12 months leading to September 2016, an estimated 268,000 citizens from other EU countries immigrated to the UK, and about 103,000 emigrated abroad. So EU ‘net migration’ was around 165,000.

Estimated non-EU immigration and net migration have historically been higher, but non-EU immigration is now at similar recorded levels as those for the EU.

We don’t yet know what impact the EU referendum has had

The most recent set of figures published cover the 12 months leading to September 2016 — so they cover three months since the referendum.

Those figures suggest EU net migration has started to fall (as well as non-EU net migration), although the changes aren’t large enough for us to be certain they’re genuine.

As the ONS points out:

“it is too early to say what effect the referendum result has had on long-term international migration”

Part of that is because there hasn’t been a consistent picture of EU immigration and emigration in the recent figures. Net migration from Eastern Europe was estimated to have fallen slightly, while there were significant increases in Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants.

The numbers are uncertain

These figures have a margin for error because they’re mainly based on surveys of passengers at airports. Net migration from the rest of the EU in any one year could usually be around 30,000 more or less than the estimates.

That means that small changes in immigration from one period to the next might not actually represent what’s really happening.

These figures also define immigrants and emigrants as people who change their country of residence for at least a year—which is called ‘long-term migration’. There are separate estimates for the numbers of people who come to the UK for less than a year.

There’s been controversy over whether long-term estimates accurately reflect immigration at all.

Reasons for coming here

The majority of citizens from other EU countries say they come to work or to find work. Others usually come to study or to join family members in the UK.

That contrasts with non-EU immigrants, who mainly say they come to study.

The proportion of EU citizens coming for work has been rising in recent years, which is thought to be related to the expansion of the EU and people leaving southern European countries experiencing economic problems.

EU net migration is at historically high levels

Annual net migration from the rest of the EU is at historically high levels. It’s been an estimated 160,000 to 190,000 for the last two years now. Back in 2010 it was nearer 70,000 a year.

As the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford points out, when the EU expanded in 2004, the UK was one of three countries which opened its borders straight away to workers from the new member states.

Three million EU citizens in the UK

Around 3.2 million people living in the UK in 2015 were citizens of another EU country. That’s about 5% of the UK population. A similar proportion were born in the rest of the EU.

Around 2.3 million nationals of other EU countries are in work, as of earlier this year. That’s about 7% of people in work—the highest on record.

Figures from last year suggested just over half—around 1.6 million—of the EU nationals living here arrived between 2006 and 2014.

EU nationals of working age are more likely to be in work than UK nationals and non-EU citizens. About 80% of working age EU citizens in the UK are in work, compared to around 75% of UK nationals and 62% of people from outside the EU.

1.2 million people from the UK live in the rest of the EU

Figures for 2015 suggest that 1.2 million people born in the UK live in other EU countries. We’ve previously looked at all the estimates in detail.

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