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UK Migration Explained In 5 Handy Charts

Net migration to the UK is set to be one of the central issues of the EU referendum campaign. Here's what the figures mean, who's migrating, and why.

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Net migration to the UK was 323,000 in the 12 months ending September 2015, figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.


This means that in the year covered by the figures, 323,000 more people entered the UK than left it. Over the period, the UK had 617,000 long-term immigrants, while 294,000 people emigrated.

The Conservative government has a long-running pledge to reduce net migration to the UK to less than 100,000 – but the new figures marked a full year of it being above 300,000, which is higher than it has been for the last decade.

The main reason the figure is staying so high because fewer people are leaving the UK, rather than lots more people entering it.


In the 1970s, so many people were emigrating from the UK that inward net migration was negative, but since the 1990s immigration has consistently outstripped emigration.

For the most recent figures, the number of people entering the UK was up very slightly year-on-year, by about 2,000, but the number of people leaving was down by 29,000 – a much bigger contributor to the overall rise in net migration to the UK of 31,000.

The majority of immigrants come from outside the EU – but the gap is shrinking fast.


The makeup of people coming to Britain has changed markedly in the last five years. In 2010, there were almost 200,000 more non-EU immigrants a year to the UK than EU immigrants. In the latest figure, that had shrunk to just 16,000 – suggesting the two may flip in the near future.

This is likely to be a major factor in the EU referendum debate, as under EU rules the UK is obliged to allow any EU citizen to live and work in the UK but can restrict immigration of non-EU citizens. Gaining further control of borders is one of the main reasons given by Eurosceptics for voting to leave.

(In case you're wondering, British citizens count as "immigrating" when they move to the UK after living, studying, or working overseas, or when they were born overseas but move to the UK.)

Most EU immigrants come from the 15 longstanding member states, not from the eastern European countries who entered the EU more recently.


Despite the attention given to immigration from Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria, most EU citizens moving to the UK come from the nations that have been in the European Union for a long time – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and co.

However, there was an increase in immigration from Romania and Bulgaria, with 55,000 people coming to the UK from those nations in the 12 months to September 2015, up 15,000 year-on-year.

Most people who come to the UK come here to work.


Moving to the UK for work is by far the most common reason for coming to the country, followed by moving to study – these two groups make up around three-quarters of immigration. The next-most-common reason is coming to join family members already living in the country.

The majority of people moving to the UK already have a firm job offer here, though 42% of EU immigrants moving to the UK for work do so to look for work.

The number of people coming to the UK seeking asylum was 38,878.

This was an increase of 20% year-on-year, and marked the fifth year running that asylum claims in the UK have risen. However, the ONS noted that asylum claims remain dramatically below their peak level in 2002, when there were 103,081 applications.

The top three countries of origin for asylum-seekers in the UK were Eritrea, Iran, and Pakistan. In the year to 2015, 2,894 Syrians applied for asylum in the UK, and a further 1,194 were granted access under a separate resettlement programme.

James Ball is a special correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. PGP: here

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