The Immigration Bill, migrants and benefits

11 October 2013

This article has been updated. See below.

The Immigration Bill 2013

  • The Coalition's Immigration Bill proposes to limit migrants' access to public services, and make it easier for the government to identify and deport illegal immigrants

Measures in the bill include:

  • An 'NHS levy' - temporary migrants from outside the European Economic Area must pay a deposit in case they need healthcare while they're in the UK
  • Additional checks - it will be more difficult for illegal immigrants to open bank accounts or obtain a driving licence, while landlords will be required to confirm the immigration status of their tenants
  • Deporting foreign criminals before their appeal is heard
  • Reducing the number of decisions that can be appealed (from 17 to four)

Migrants in the UK: who are they and how many are there?

One in 13 (7.8%) of the population of the UK was a foreign national in 2012. That's the equivalent of 4.8 million people. Just over half - 2.5 million - are of non-EU nationality. By comparison, in 2004 approximately 5% of the usually resident population of the UK were foreign nationals.

(Source: Source: ONS Population by Country of Birth and Nationality Report, August 2013)

Net migration

Net migration increased in the year ending December 2012 to 176,000, compared to the year ending September 2012 when it stood at 153,000. This is the first quarterly increase for over a year.

How many migrants are working in the UK?

In total, 2.6 million non-UK nationals are employed in the UK.

How many migrants are currently claiming benefits in the UK?

The Department for Work and Pensions doesn't have figures on the number of non-UK nationals claiming benefits at any given time. However it does record the number who were claiming benefits at the point at which they registered for a National Insurance number (NiNo). 

The latest figures were relased in August 2013. From this release we know that a total 397,000 non-UK nationals (6.7% of the working-age population) were claiming benefits when they registered for a NiNo, compared to 16.4% of the working-age UK population.

(Sources: DWP NiNo registrations, August 2013 & Quarterly Statistical Summary, August 2013)

While this data suggests that a lower proportion of foreign nationals were claiming benefits at this point, we need to be a little cautious: many of these NiNo registrations may have taken place years ago, and the people concerned may now be UK citizens. Similarly, differences in the circumstances facing British and foreign nationals may mean that different proportions of each cohort go on to claim beneftis after  they register for a NiNo.

(Source: DWP Statistical Bulletin, August 2013)

How many council flats and houses are going to foreign nationals?

In 2011/12, 9% of tenants receiving a new social housing property were non-UK nationals.

*Existing social tenants are defined as those who have previously lived in social rented property at the time they began their new let. Those who aren't moving into a social housing property from another social let are classed as new tenants.

"Health tourism"

As a general rule, migrants from outside the EU who aren't ordinarily resident in the UK are required to pay for treatment they receive. We've already looked at the cost of so-called "health tourists".

As it stands, if the NHS identified and succesfully pursued every overseas visitor receiving care, the government suggests that the "best estimate" for income would be £125 million. According to a sample survey, Trusts are currently recovering only £15-25 million of this, which means approximately £100 million is lost. To put these sums in context, the NHS's budget for 2012/13 is £108.9 billion. This means, according to the government's own calculations, that overseas visitors currently account for about 0.1% of total NHS expenditure.

Further reading:

Home Office factsheet on the immigration bill

Office for Budget Responsibility Fiscal Sustainability Report

Our factcheck Has there been a sharp rise in Eastern Europeans claiming benefits? (September 2013)



For the avoidance of confusion we have deleted a sentence which stated that restricting migrants' access to public services would save £466 million. In fact this number relates to the expected savings from the new system of visa fees. The government has now published its impact assessment for the Immigration Bill as a whole that summarises the various costs and savings for each measure.

We corrected a mistake in the first bar chart, which initially referred to foreign-born migrants, rather than foreign nationals.

We also added a note to clarify that the DWP's analysis of foreign nationals claiming benefits is based on their nationality at the point of receiving their National Insurance number, and not necessarily a reflection of the proportion currently claiming benefits. We've also updated the chart accordingly.

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