ONS COVID-19 Briefing: Migration

A summary of the latest long-term international migration estimates for the UK for the year ending March 2020. Data from the Home Office, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) are also included.

This release covers the period up to the year ending March 2020. However, the period in which data were collected from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) covers up to 16 March 2020. The IPS was suspended on this date because of COVID-19.

In addition, it is recognised that international travel patterns have changed significantly in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and therefore we have also provided insights on recent travel patterns in the period up to the end of June 2020.

Key Points

  • In the year ending March 2020, around 313,000 more people moved to the UK, intending to stay for 12 months or more than left the UK (net migration, the balance between immigration and emigration).
  • Over the year, around 715,000 people moved to the UK (immigration) and around 403,000 people left the UK (emigration).
  • The increase in immigration and net migration is being driven by an increase in non-EU nationals arriving in the UK for study reasons.
  • Of those coming to the UK, 257,000 were arriving for formal study, with 458,000 arriving for work, family, or other reasons.

Context

Migration to and from the UK

In the year ending March 2020, long-term international migration continued to add to the UK population. Current best estimates show that around 313,000 more people moved to the UK with an intention to stay for 12 months or more than left the UK (net migration).

Over the year, around 715,000 people moved to the UK (immigration) and around 403,000 people left the UK (emigration).

The increase in immigration and net migration is being driven by an increase in non-EU nationals arriving for study reasons. Of those immigrating to the UK, 257,000 were arriving for formal study, with 458,000 arriving for work, family or other reasons.

In the year ending March 2020, non-EU citizens added to the UK population, with 316,000 more people estimated to have arrived than left. An estimated 437,000 non-EU citizens came to the UK to stay for 12 months or more, with 121,000 leaving the UK.

EU citizens also continue to add to the UK population, with 195,000 EU citizens moving to the UK with an intention of staying 12 months or more, with 137,000 leaving the UK. This has created a net migration estimate of 58,000 for EU citizens.

 

EU and non-EU migration over time

Since 2019, there has been a change in migration patterns, which has led to an increase in net migration. This change in patterns is different for EU and non-EU citizens.

EU net migration has stabilised. Non-EU net migration has been gradually increasing since 2013, and as at the year ending March 2020, is at some of the highest levels seen since International Passenger Survey (IPS) records began for this group in 1975.

For EU and non-EU citizens, more people come to the UK than leave the UK and therefore both groups continue to add to the UK population. In contrast, more British citizens leave the UK than return to the UK.

In the year ending March 2020, 61,000 more British citizens left the UK for 12 months or more than arrived over the same period.

Since 2018, EU net migration has stabilised and stands at 58,000 in the year ending March 2020.

An estimated 316,000 more non-EU citizens moved to the UK than left in the year ending March 2020. This net estimate has gradually increased since 2013. This is largely because of a rise in non-EU immigration, currently at some of the highest levels recorded, while emigration has remained broadly stable.

 

Home Office visa data

Latest available Home Office visa data in the year ending March 2020 (the comparable time period with Long-Term International Migration estimates) show that the number of Tier 4 (sponsored study) visas granted was 299,023, its highest level since the year ending June 2011, increasing 23% on the year ending March 2019.

This increase in immigration has largely been driven by a rise in Asian citizens coming to the UK for formal study.

Home Office visa data show that Chinese nationals accounted for 40% of the 299,023 sponsored study visas granted in the year ending March 2020 and the number has more than doubled since 2012.

Indian nationals accounted for a further 17%, with the number more than doubling in the latest year (now at 49,844 grants) and continuing to increase since 2016.

 

Asylum

Home Office statistics show that the UK offered protection - in the form of asylum, humanitarian protection, alternative forms of leave and resettlement - to 16,952 people in the year ending June 2020, 8% lower than the previous year. This consisted of:

  • 11,116 grants of asylum
  • 1,387 grants of humanitarian protection
  • 889 grants of an alternative form of leave
  • 3,560 people were provided protection under resettlement schemes, mainly Syrian nationals granted under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme

In addition to these, over the same period, a further 2,932 people had an appeal allowed following an initial refusal of asylum.

 

Insights on recent international travel patterns

Estimated 1.3 million passenger arrivals (including returning UK residents) in April to June 2020.

This is a 97% (27.7 million) decrease compared with the same period in 2019, because of the coronavirus travel restrictions.

At the same time, the number of applications for visitor visas in the second quarter of 2020 was 99% lower than in the same period in 2019.

 

Recent travel insights

Whilst air travel is the most common route for international travel to or from the UK, people also arrive via other routes including ferry, Eurotunnel and Eurostar.

According to monthly figures produced by the Department for Transport, the effect of travel restrictions on short international ferry routes to Ireland and other European countries began to be seen in March 2020. Further impacts were then seen between April and June, with the largest decrease in April 2020, when total traffic dropped by 85% compared with the previous year.