Net Migration to the UK: Down 89,000 in a Year

Immigration officers at Gatwick airport

Immigration officers at Gatwick airport. Is the rate of people leaving the country, starting to catch up with the rate of people that are entering it? Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

It’s that time of year again: the release of migration statistics. Many will be keen to inspect how close these numbers come to the Conservative’s target to reduce net migration to 100,000 by 2015 when they will again face the vote.

The latest numbers from the Office for National Statistics show that net migration was 153,000 in the year ending September 2012, compared to 242,000 the previous year.

Alan Travis has more on the story here, including this comment from the immigration minister, Mark Harper:

The figures show we have cut out abuse while encouraging the brightest and best migrants who contribute to economic growth, with a 5% increase in the number of sponsored student visa applications for our world-class universities, and a 5% increase in the number of visas issued to skilled workers.

Latest totals

Though the data for the twelve months to September 2012 is still provisional, it suggests that half a million people immigrated to the UK. This represented a 14% reduction from 581,000 immigrants (or ‘inflow’ as it’s named in the data).

Long-term emigration meanwhile is rising – up 2% from 339,000 in the year ending September 2011.

Though immigration and emigration have moved in opposite directions over the past year, the changes have not been enough to offset one another meaning that net migration remains a positive value.

Reasons for coming

A critical piece of information for policy makers – wherever they sit on the political spectrum – is the reason given by those who have decided to enter or leave the UK. Here, trends are just as visible as elsewhere.

Immigration motivation

Immigration, thousands. Source: Office for National Statistics

Formal study has been the most common reason given by those immigrating, followed by a work-related motivation. Almost half (190,000) of long-term migrants state study as their reason for coming, though these individuals often receive less attention than the 62,000 who come to the UK to accompany or join a family member already here.

Also, often overlooked is the fact that the majority of those who state work as their reason for coming (175,000) are also able to state that they have a definite job. A smaller fraction, 38%, come to the UK in search of employment.

Emigration motivation

Emigration, thousands. Source: Office for National Statistics

Changes in motivation appear to coincide with the financial crisis – more people leaving the UK cited work as a reason for their decision after 2007. Similarly, 2007 was the first year in which more immigrants cited study rather than work as a reason for coming – a trend which has continued ever since.58% of those leaving the UK cite work as a reason for doing so – of these, 64% have a definite job waiting for them in their destination of choice, the remainder state that they are heading off in search of work.

Citizenship trends

Finally, who exactly is arriving and (probably a less controversial question) where are people leaving the UK going to? Well, the Office for National Statistics summarise these numbers using the following headings:

• British
• EU
• EU 15 (EU countries as constituted between 1 January 1995 and 1 May 2004)
• EU 8 (eight Central and Eastern European countries that acceded to the EU on 1 May 2004)
• All non-EU – which is comprised of
• Old commonwealth
• New commonwealth
• Other foreign

When the numbers are broken down by citizenship, some of the most striking trends are to be seen among non-British citizens. For example, net-migration of non-British citizens has fallen by 25% from 303,000 in 2011 to 228,000 in 2012. Net-migration of EU citizens remained more stable, falling by 12% to 66,000 in 2012 compared to the previous year.

Non-EU destinations remain slightly more appealing to those leaving the UK – 78,000 headed to EU countries compared to 104,000 leaving to places outside the European Union.

Below are biannual and, where available, quarterly figures for inward and outward long-term flows as well as net migration. What can you do with the data?

Download the data

• DATA: download the full spreadsheet

The Guardian