The pull of the UK for EU migrants | University of Oxford
Union Jack in front of Big Ben in London.
Union Jack in front of Big Ben in London.

The pull of the UK for EU migrants

New analysis by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford examines the pulling power of the UK for migrants in southern Europe.

Three crisis-hit Eurozone countries rank alongside eastern European accession countries as the EU member states whose UK-resident populations have grown the most between 2011 and 2015, the new commentary shows.

In the analysis, researchers analyse key domestic and international factors that could have made the UK an attractive destination for EU migrants in recent years. The commentary is part of a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

Six countries – Poland, Romania, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Portugal – have been responsible for 80% of the growth in the UK’s EU-born population since 2011.

While some of the factors encouraging migration to the UK are permanent (such as the attraction of the English language and the presence of well-established migrant communities here), others have the potential to change over time, says the research. It adds that economic factors like high unemployment in southern Europe and lower wages in Eastern Europe, for example, are likely to be key drivers of recent migration. How they will evolve in coming years is difficult to predict. 

The research shows that the gap in average disposable incomes between UK and Poland (adjusted for purchasing power) has almost halved since mid-2000s, but the gap with Romania remains significant.

There is no single factor driving high levels of EU migration in recent years. Some drivers are...the relatively low wages in new EU member states... others could potentially dissipate more quickly, like high unemployment in Spain.

Madeleine Sumption, the Migration Observatory

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: 'There is no single factor driving high levels of EU migration in recent years. Some drivers are likely to remain in place for some years, such as the relatively low wages in new EU member states, particularly Romania. Others could potentially dissipate more quickly, like high unemployment in Spain.'

The commentary notes that it is too early to tell how the introduction of the National Living Wage will affect migration: while it may increase the financial advantage of moving to the UK from a lower-income EU country, it could also push UK employers to rely less on low-wage workers, including those from the EU.

Sumption added: 'Despite recent debates about the role of UK policies like welfare benefits or the minimum wage in driving migration, migration may respond more to factors that governments don’t directly control, like demographics and economic growth in other EU countries.'

Recent increases in migration from key southern and eastern European countries of origin have taken place despite declining numbers of youth—the people most likely to migrate—in those countries. The population of 20-34-year-olds in Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain has declined by 6.3 million - or about 15% - since 2006.

The commentary, Pulling Power: Why are EU citizens migrating to the UK?, is published by the Migration Observatory.