Migrants in the UK: An Overview - Migration Observatory (2023)

How many migrants are there in the UK? Where do migrants live? What countries do migrants to the UK come from? This briefing provides an overview of the UK’s foreign-born population.

As of the year ending June 2021, people born outside the UK made up an estimated 14.5% of the UK’s population, or 9.6 million people

The size of the foreign-born population in the UK increased from about 5.3 million in 2004 to over 9.5 million in 2021 (Figure 1). The growth of the foreign-born population appears to have slowed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but currently available estimates suggest that net migration remained positive despite a net outflow of EU citizens (see the Migration Observatory briefing, Net migration to the UK). For discussion about early indicators of the impact of the pandemic on UK migration flows, see our commentary “New Measures: COVID-19, the end of the International Passenger Survey, and the November 2020 migration statistics.”

Although the numbers of EU migrants increased more rapidly than non-EU migrants for most of the 2000s and 2010s, the non-EU foreign born still make up a majority of the foreign-born population. In 2021, an estimated 36% of migrants were born in the EU. More information about EU migration is available in the Migration Observatory briefing, EU Migration to and From the UK.

Figure 1

The share of foreign-born people in the UK’s total population increased from 9% from 2004 to 14% in 2021 (Figure 2). During the same period, the share of foreign citizens rose from 5% to just under 10%.

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Over time, the foreign-born share of the population typically rises more than the non-citizen share, because many migrants become UK citizens over time. EU migrants have traditionally been less likely to naturalise as British citizens than people from non-EU countries. This remained the case after the 2016 referendum on EU membership despite an increase in citizenship applications among EU citizens. The non-citizen population also includes some children born in the UK: in 2021, there were an estimated 350,000 UK-born children (under the age of 18) who were EU nationals and 118,000who were non-EU nationals, according to the Annual Population Survey. For more information about citizenship and naturalisation of UK migrants, see the Migration Observatory briefing, Citizenship and Naturalisation for Migrants in the UK. For more about the children of migrants read the Migration Observatory briefing: Children of migrants in the UK.

Figure 2

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Compared to the UK born, migrants are more likely to be age 26 to 64, and less likely to be children or people of retirement age

Compared to the UK-born population, migrants are more likely to be adults aged 26-64 and less likely to be children or people of retirement age (65+) (Figure 3). In 2021, 70% of the foreign born were aged 26-64, compared to 48% of the UK born. The share of migrants in this age range varies by place of birth, with the highest percentage being for those born in the EU-8, EU2, Oceania, Africa, and Pakistan.

An estimated 20% of the UK-born were at least 65 years old in 2021, compared to 12% of migrants. Among the foreign-born, there is a lot of variation depending on the place of origin. Only 1% of people born in Romania or Bulgaria were aged 65+ compared to 18% of those born in the EU-14.

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The overall shares of young people aged 16 to 25 are similar for those born in the UK (12%) and abroad (10%). The smallest percentage (5%) of young people are born in India, and the largest percentage (13%) originate from EU-8 countries.

Figure 3

Although the numbers of both female and male migrants have increased over time, women constitute a small majority of the UK’s migrant population. In 2019, about 53% of the foreign-born population were women or girls, according to APS data.

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London has the largest number of migrants among all regions of the UK

Migrants are much more likely to live in some parts of the UK than others. In the year ending June 2021, about half of the UK’s foreign- born population (48% in total) were either in London (35% – 3,346,000) or the South East (13% – 1,286,000). Northern Ireland, the North East and Wales have a low share of the UK’s total foreign-born population, at 1–2% each (Figure 4). In comparison, the UK-born population is more evenly distributed. In mid-2021, only 10% of the UK-born population lived in London. For more information about the geographical distribution of the UK’s migrant population, see the Migration Observatory briefing, Where do migrants live in the UK? For detailed local-authority level data on migration, see the Migration Observatory’s Local Data Guide.

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Figure 4 [Regional distribution of the UK’s foreign-born population, year ending June 2021]

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India became the most common country of origin for migrants in the UK after a number of Poles left the UK

In the year ending June 2021, India, Poland and Pakistan were the top three countries of birth for the foreign-born, accounting respectively for 9%, 7% and 5% of the total (Figure 5). Poland dropped from the first place in 2018, during a period when net migration of people from countries that joined the EU in 2004 was estimated to be negative.

Nonetheless, Poland is still the top country of citizenship of foreign citizens (696,000), accounting for 12% of non-UK citizens living in the UK. This figure is also down since 2018, when it was estimated at 905,000. For more information on Polish and EU migration, please see the Migration Observatory briefing, EU Migration to and From the UK.

Figure 5

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Just under half of non-EU-born migrants in the UK in the year ending June 2021 said they came to the country for family reasons, while the most common reason for migration among EU migrants was work

In the year ending June 2021, the most common reason that non-EU migrants gave for having originally moved to the UK was family (46% of non-EU born), followed by work (23%). The high shares of family migrants in the non-EU population in part reflects the fact that people who come on family visas are more likely to settle permanently than people who come on work or student visas – as explained in the Migration Observatory briefing, Settlement in the UK.

By contrast, EU migrants were more likely to have moved for work (48%). Work was a particularly important reason for migration for migrants from new EU member states, with 55% of EU-8 migrants and 58% of EU-2 migrants giving this reason.

Figure 6

For more information about family migration, see the Migration Observatory briefing, Family migration to the UK. More information about work visas and work migration is available in the briefing, Work visas and migrant workers in the UK. Information about international students can be found in the briefing, International student migration to the UK.

Evidence gaps and limitations

The APS has some limitations for estimating migrants in the UK. First, it does not measure the scale of irregular migration. Second, it does not provide information on asylum seekers. Third, the APS excludes those who do not live in households, such as those in hotels, caravan parks and other communal establishments. The APS is therefore likely to underestimate the UK population of recent migrants in particular. As noted above, there is also increased uncertainty about the estimates since 2020, due to problems collecting accurate data during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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There are also some limitations in the APS variable on nationality, which currently does not collect full information on dual citizens. Where a respondent mentions more than one nationality, only the first nationality is recorded. This could mean that the number of non-British citizens is overestimated in this briefing. Respondents’ answer to the question ‘What is your nationality’ will not necessarily always reflect their legal citizenship, and will depend on how individuals understand the meaning of this term.


With thanks to Veronika Fajth for updating this briefing in 2022.


Where are the migrants coming from UK? ›

It comes as the number of migrants making the perilous crossing in makeshift boats hit a new record high mark on Sunday -- more than 40,000 this year according to the British government. More than half are said to come from Albania, Afghanistan and Iran.

How many refugees are there in the UK 2022? ›

The UK offered protection, in the form of asylum, humanitarian protection, alternative forms of leave and resettlement, to 15,684 people (including dependants) in the year ending June 2022. Of these: 12,968 were granted refugee status following an asylum application ('asylum') 859 were granted humanitarian protection.

How many refugees does the UK take compared to other countries? ›

Of all refugees resettled in the UK from January 2010 to December 2021, around 70% were Syrian citizens. When compared against EU+ countries, in 2021 the UK ranked 6th in the absolute number of people to whom it gave protection, comprising asylum seekers and resettled refugees.

How many migrants does the UK take? ›

Migrants living in the UK

In 2021 there were approximately 6.0 million people with non-British nationality living in the UK and 9.6 million people who were born abroad. The UK's migrant population is concentrated in London. Around 35% of people living in the UK who were born abroad live in the capital city.

Which country has the most immigrants in UK? ›

London has the largest number of migrants among all regions of the UK, 3,346,000 – or 37% of the UK's total foreign-born population. In the year ending June 2021, India was – once again – the most common country of birth for migrants (896,000) in the UK.

Why do all immigrants come to the UK? ›

Migrants' reasons for moving to the UK are usually classified into four main categories: work, study, family, and asylum or refugee resettlement.

Which city in the UK has the most refugees? ›

As of December 2021, Glasgow (69.2) and Southwark (45.1) were providing support to the highest number of asylum applicants relative to their size, while Middlesbrough (41.3) had the highest rate among local authorities that have not resettled any refugees since 2014.

Where do most refugees live in UK? ›

Asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their application make up a higher share of the population in the north of England, the West Midlands and Wales, and a lower share in the South East, East of England and South West.

What is the difference between a migrant and a refugee? ›

The main difference is choice. Simply speaking, a migrant is someone who chooses to move, and a refugee is someone who has been forced from their home.

Do France take more refugees than UK? ›

Despite the fact that France receives a far higher number of asylum applications and takes in more refugees than the UK, there are still many people who are unable to settle in France.

What 3 countries do most refugees come from? ›

More than two-thirds of today's refugees have been forced to flee from these five countries.
  1. Syria — 6.8 million refugees and asylum-seekers. ...
  2. Venezuela — 4.6 million refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants. ...
  3. Afghanistan — 2.7 million refugees and asylum seekers. ...
  4. South Sudan — 2.4 million refugees and asylum-seekers.
22 Jul 2022

Which country takes most refugees? ›

Türkiye hosts the largest number of refugees, with 3.7 million people. Colombia is second with more than 2.5 million, including other people in need of international protection.
Welcome to UNHCR's Refugee Population Statistics Database.
Türkiye3.7 million
Germany2.2 million
Pakistan1.5 million
Uganda1.5 million
1 more row

Does the UK need immigrants? ›

Up to 1.3 million people born abroad left the UK between the third quarter of 2019 and the same period in 2020, according to a blog published earlier this month by the government-funded Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence.

What percentage of the UK is white? ›

White British45,134,68680.5
White Irish531,0870.9
White Gypsy/Traveller57,6800.1
20 more rows
1 Aug 2018

How many Ukrainian refugees came to UK? ›

Home Office data on the Ukraine visa schemes show that as of 15 August 2022, over 115,000 Ukraine Scheme visa-holders had arrived in the UK since those schemes began.

Where do most blacks live in UK? ›

Almost 97 per cent of Black Britons live in England, particularly in England's larger urban areas, with most (over a million) Black British living in Greater London.

Where do Russians live in UK? ›

Settlement and population numbers

Estimates published by The Guardian suggest that the resident population of London born in Russia was over 150,000 in 2014. The rise in population has led to jocular nicknames for London such as "Londongrad" and "Moscow-on-the-Thames".

How many Muslims are in UK? ›

The vast majority of Muslims in the United Kingdom live in England: 2,660,116 (5.0%), 76,737 Muslims live in Scotland (1.45%), 45,950 in Wales (1.50%).
Islam in Europe.
Total population
Greater London1,012,823
West Midlands376,152
North West England356,458
Yorkshire and the Humber326,050
8 more rows

Why are people leaving the UK? ›

More and more Brits are now looking to emigrate abroad as a result of the rising cost of energy bills, interest rates, council tax, food and petrol prices.

Does Britain benefit from immigration? ›

European migrants living in the UK contribute £2,300 more to public purse each year than the average adult, suggesting a net contribution of £78,000 to the exchequer over their lifespan in the UK.

Where do most Germans live in the UK? ›

Other than in areas with army bases, clusters of people born in Germany are found in West London, particularly around Richmond, where there is a German school.

Which city is best for immigrants in UK? ›

  • Birmingham. It is the 2nd largest city of the UK that is always on the radar of several expats relocating to the UK. ...
  • Glasgow. The largest city of Scotland has re-invented itself over the last few decades. ...
  • Oxford. ...
  • Brighton. ...
  • Cardiff. ...
  • Edinburgh. ...
  • Manchester.

What is the most racially diverse city in the UK? ›

If you were asked what the most ethnically diverse city in Britain was, you might say London, and the capital certainly is a melting pot of cultures from every corner of the globe, but you would be wrong. The UK's second city, Birmingham, holds the accolade for being the most diverse city in Britain.

Do you get paid to house a refugee? ›

It will not pay hosts; hosting is an altruistic relationship where no rent or services in lieu are due in exchange for the hosting. Refugees at Home will not arrange placements for children, or guests with serious mental health issues or substance abuse problems.

What problems do refugees face in the UK? ›

Refugees living in the UK face a variety of barriers to employment, including language barriers, non-recognition of qualifications, cultural differences and discrimination. 84% of refugees reported that they did not have sufficient English language ability to get a job.

How much money do asylum seekers get in the UK? ›

Cash support

You'll get £40.85 for each person in your household. This will help you pay for things you need like food, clothing and toiletries. Your allowance will be loaded onto a debit card (ASPEN card) each week. You'll be able to use the card to get cash from a cash machine.

Why do migrants come to the UK and not stay in France? ›

As well as language and family ties, some Calais-based migrants told the BBC they wanted to come to the UK due to historic links with their own country. Some also expressed unhappiness at the way they were being treated in France.

Which country has the highest proportion of immigrants? ›

The United States is home to the largest number of immigrants—over 50 million—which now make up 15% of the country's population.

Who takes the least refugees in Europe? ›

In Western Europe, it is Portugal that has received the fewest refugees, at 0.03 per cent.

Which European country is best for refugees? ›

Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Ireland, and Portugal were all found to be some of the world's best countries when it comes to helping refugees assimilate into society.

Which country in Europe receives the most refugees? ›

Data from the UN refugee agency shows that Turkey was home to the largest refugee population in 2021. It hosted 3.8 million refugees, mostly from its neighbour Syria.

Which countries do not take refugees? ›

Gallup's updated Migrant Acceptance Index ranks North Macedonia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro – southeast European countries that along with Greece and Italy faced the initial waves of refugees – as the least-accepting countries for migrants.

Who is a famous refugee? ›

Albert Einstein – One of the world's most famous scientists, German-Jewish refugee. Alexander Grothendieck – Mathematician, German-Jewish refugee. Robert Fano – Physicist, Italian-Jewish refugee. Ugo Fano – Physicist, Italian-Jewish refugee.

What city takes the most refugees? ›

In 2017 and 2018 Atlanta resettled the highest number of refugees of any U.S. city.

How does Germany treat refugees? ›

Providing humanitarian assistance on the ground: Germany provides direct aid in crisis-hit regions in the form of emergency accommodation, food, healthcare and education.

Which country is best for asylum? ›

Turkey is again the host of the most refugees worldwide by far, and the number keeps growing. The country hosted nearly 3.8 million refugees – almost all of whom are from Syria – in 2021, after that number was around 3.5 million in the middle of 2020.

Which European country has the most immigrants? ›

In 2021 Russia had the highest net migration figures in Europe at 320,617 people, while Turkey had the lowest with negative net-migration figure of 69,729.

Is UK friendly to foreigners? ›

Foreigners from many parts of the world are baffled as to why the British come across as so guarded. Well, the truth is, this does not accurately reflect the British or their culture. In fact, the British are very friendly, open and amicable people.

Is UK immigrant friendly country? ›

The next country on our list of immigration-friendly countries is the United Kingdom. For all students who wish to study in the UK and have zeroed on their education destination this year or next in the UK, there is good news.

Are there too many foreigners in the UK? ›

The problem is that the current level of immigration into the UK is much too high. In the year to June 2022, there were 1.1 million visas granted to foreign nationals to come and live in the UK – by far the highest on record (and about equivalent to the population of Britain's second largest city Birmingham).

What is the whitest city in the UK? ›

The highest unitary authority with a White British proportion is Redcar and Cleveland (97.6%) followed by Northumberland (97.2%), Hartlepool and County Durham (both 96.6%). The highest county is Lincolnshire (93%) followed by Nottinghamshire, Norfolk and Worcestershire, all above 92%.

What race is mostly in the UK? ›

The largest ethnic group in the United Kingdom is White British, followed by Asian British. Ethnicity in the United Kingdom is formally recorded at the national level through a census.

Where is the largest Ukrainian population in the UK? ›

All 20 local authorities with the largest Ukrainian populations were in London, with the largest populations in the boroughs of Newham, Ealing, Hounslow, and Waltham Forest. In total, approximately 19,000 Ukraine-born people lived in London – around 52% of the Ukraine-born population in England and Wales.

How much are Ukrainian refugees paid in UK? ›

30 September 2022

Portsmouth City Council has pledged to increase the amount paid to about 80 hosts of Ukrainian refugees by £100 per month for six months. The hosts have been receiving £350 a month from the Government since their guests arrived on the Homes for Ukraine visa scheme.

Which country has taken the most Ukrainian refugees? ›

The countries receiving the largest numbers of refugees were Russia (2.9 million), Poland (1.5 million), Germany (1 million) and the Czech Republic (0.4 million). The communications chief of the UN High Commission for Human Rights called the speed of the exodus of refugees from Ukraine "phenomenal".

Where are most the asylum seekers coming from UK? ›

In 2021, 43% were nationals of Middle Eastern countries, 28% of asylum applicants were nationals of African countries, 18% were nationals of Asian countries, and 12% were from Europe.

Where are most migrants coming from? ›

Central American migration to the United States has greatly increased over the past several years.
Fast facts: Central America migration
  • Poverty, violence, and food insecurity are among the top reasons families migrate north.
  • Most people at the southern U.S. border migrate from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
5 May 2022

Why do migrants want to come to the UK and not stay in France? ›

As well as language and family ties, some Calais-based migrants told the BBC they wanted to come to the UK due to historic links with their own country. Some also expressed unhappiness at the way they were being treated in France.

Where do most refugees come from? ›

More than 7 in 10 of all refugees under UNHCR's mandate and other people in need of international protection come from just five countries. Türkiye hosts the largest number of refugees, with 3.7 million people.
Welcome to UNHCR's Refugee Population Statistics Database.
Türkiye3.7 million
Uganda1.5 million
3 more rows

What country lets in the most refugees? ›

These 10 countries receive the most refugees
  1. Lebanon – 19.8 per cent of the total population. ...
  2. Jordan – 10.4 per cent. ...
  3. Nauru – 6.8 per cent. ...
  4. Turkey – 5.0 per cent. ...
  5. Uganda – 3.7 per cent. ...
  6. Sudan – 2.7 per cent. ...
  7. Sweden – 2.6 per cent. ...
  8. Malta – 2.5 per cent.
1 Nov 2020

Can a UK citizen still live in France? ›

If you are a UK National you can stay in France more than 90 days at a time. It is still possible for UK nationals (like Canadians, Americans & Australians) to live in France for 1 year to 4 years and also apply for permanent French Residency.


1. United Kingdom Current Migration Situation
(Melissa Siegel)
2. UK Migration Animation
(Oxford Digital Media)
3. European Attitudes About Migration: Observatory of Public Attitudes to Migration (OPAM)
(Melissa Siegel)
4. Migration Observatory 5th Annual Conference - Immigration and COVID-19
(Collegio Carlo Alberto)
5. Sky News Explains: How does the UK handle immigration?
(Sky News)
6. Research Insight: Migration After Brexit
(The UK in a Changing Europe)
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