More context is needed for these “facts about immigration”

27th Jun 2019


26% of NHS doctors are foreign-born.


26% of doctors in England (excluding GPs) were nationalities other than British as of September 2017. The latest figure is 27% (September 2018). We don’t know where they were born as this data isn’t collected.


The British Medical Association advises that without immigrants “many NHS services would struggle to provide effective care”.


That is an accurate quote from the BMA from 2014. It has made similar comments since.


Almost 5.5 million British people live permanently abroad.


This is based on an out-of-date estimate. A more recent estimate puts the number at just under five million.


Immigrants are 60% less likely to claim benefits than a British-born person.


That’s based on a decade-old report and only looked at immigrants from a few EU countries. Immigrants are probably less likely to be receiving out of work benefits than UK nationals, based on the best available evidence.


Between 1995 and 2011, EU immigrants contributed £8.8 billion more than they gained.


That’s an estimate from a 2013 study. There are lots of ways to calculate economic impact of immigration and no single correct answer to that question.


Most studies suggest that immigration has no significant effect on overall employment, or British unemployment.


That’s a fair general reflection of UK research. Most studies show little or no effect on employment or unemployment of UK-born workers, but it can depend on the state of the economy.

Claim 1 of 6

A set of “immigration facts” that have been shared over 40,000 times on Facebook make several claims about immigration.

These claims are quite old, and we first checked them back in 2015, but we’ve got more up-to-date figures below.

The claim that 26% of doctors are foreign-born actually refers to those with a non-British nationality, but most of the other claims are broadly correct, although some are based on old data or reports.

 “26% of NHS doctors are foreign-born.”

There isn’t data on where doctors were born, so the figure in the image is likely referring to nationality.

As of September 2017, 26% of doctors in hospitals and community health services in England were not British. 10% of doctors reported that they were of EU nationality, excluding British. This doesn’t include GPs or doctors whose nationality isn’t recorded.

More up-to-date information suggests 27% of doctors were not British as of September 2018.

We also know how many GPs in England got their primary medical qualification overseas. At September 2018, just over 21% initially qualified in countries outside the UK. Almost 5% were from other EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

These figures exclude certain types of GP, for example registrars (GPs in training), retainers (those on schemes to support people with a caring responsibility), and locums (GPs providing temporary cover). It also excludes those working in prisons, army bases, walk-in centres, some specialist care centres, and educational establishments.

The BMA advises that without immigrants “many NHS services would struggle to provide effective care”.

This is a real quote from the British Medical Association (BMA), reported by the Guardian in 2014. The BMA has made similar statements since.

“Almost 5.5 million British people live permanently abroad.”

That’s in the right ball park. The latest estimates from the United Nations are that just over 4.9 million people who “originate” from the UK lived abroad in 2017. The UN says these estimates “are based on official statistics on the foreign-born or the foreign population.”

According to the UN’s figures, the single country with the most people originating from the UK is Australia. About a quarter of those living abroad in 2017 were living in EU countries. This UN data isn’t perfect, as countries’ definition of ‘immigrant’ varies.

We think the 5.5 million probably comes from an Institute for Public Policy Research study from 2006.

“Immigrants are 60% less likely to claim benefits than a British-born person.”

That figure seems to come from a decade-old report on the impact of immigrants from the eight states that joined the EU in 2004, based on what they claimed in benefits and tax credits. Three more countries have joined since then, and the report itself isn’t the latest such study which has been published.

EU migrants are generally less likely to claim out-of-work benefits compared to UK-born people, and more likely to claim in-work benefits like tax credits, according to research from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford a few years ago.

The House of Commons library produced a briefing in 2017 that said non-UK nationals were less likely to be receiving out-of-work benefits than UK nationals. That’s looking at people at the point that they register for National Insurance numbers. People who were born abroad who have since become British citizens aren’t counted as non-UK nationals in this case.

At November 2017 (which is the most recent data we have) around 13% of people claiming at least one working age benefit were non-UK nationals, using data on nationality when they first registered for a National Insurance number.

“Between 1995-2011, EU immigrants contributed £8.8 billion more than they gained.”

This correctly quotes an estimate from a 2013 study about the economic impact of immigration. A similar and more up-to-date study from the same authors came to an estimate of £20 billion for recently-arrived EU immigrants between 2001 and 2011. But estimating how much immigrants contribute or cost to public finances is a challenge and varies depending on how you calculate it. There’s no single “correct” figure for how much migrants contribute to public finances, as we’ve discussed more here.

“Most studies suggest that immigration has no significant effect on overall employment, or British unemployment.”

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said at the end of 2018 that “research shows a small impact of overall immigration on the employment and unemployment rates of UK-born workers.”

“A number of studies have examined whether immigration leads to higher unemployment or inactivity among existing workers, and most have found either small effects or no effect.”

Some studies have shown the impact depends on how the economy’s doing, finding a bigger effect during downturns. Others have found that if there is an impact, it may be negative for people with fewer qualifications. We’ve written more about how immigration affects jobs (and wages) here.