Europeans' attitudes to migration 'do not depend on net migration levels' | University of Oxford
Travellers queue at passport controls at UK airport.
Travellers queue at passport controls at UK airport.

Europeans' attitudes to migration 'do not depend on net migration levels'

A new study by the Centre for Social Investigation (CSI) at Nuffield College, Oxford, has analysed views on immigration across 21 European countries and finds that negative attitudes do not appear to be linked with net migration rates. It also reveals that people interviewed in the UK have a slightly more positive view of migrants' contribution to their country as compared with a decade earlier .

The report, 'How do Europeans differ in their attitudes to immigration?', finds some countries with high immigration levels are also very positive about migrants, such as Norway; while other countries like the Czech Republic and Hungary with low immigration rates are among the most negative in their view of migrants, according to the population samples.

Based on interviews with around 40,000 men and women, the nationally representative data collected by the European Social Survey in 2014-15 also reveals that people interviewed in the UK had slightly less positive attitudes to immigration than the average for countries sampled, with levels of support similar to France and Belgium. However, the UK sample had a more positive response when asked about how migrants contribute once they are living in the UK. When asked whether their country was ‘made a worse or better place to live by people coming over to live here from other countries’, the UK average score was just over 5 out of 10 (where 10 is better), a higher score than in 2002-03.

While most European countries saw an increase in the belief that migration had improved their country since 2002/3, Austria (which just narrowly avoided a far right electoral victory) and the Czech Republic are 'notable exceptions', says the report. Meanwhile, Scandinavian countries and Poland have the most positive attitudes to immigration.

At an individual level, the highly educated and the young tend to have more positive views of immigration than elderly people or those with less education or low incomes, says the report. According to those surveyed, migrants' racial and religious backgrounds were relatively unimportant. Strikingly, people interviewed said they preferred migrants who showed a commitment to the way of life in their country, an ability to speak the language, and migrants with skills. Professionals were preferred to unskilled labourers, and this was far more important to those surveyed than the country of origin. All else being equal, however, those surveyed said they would welcome migrants from within Europe over those from outside of it.

Jewish migrants were preferred to Muslims, who in turn would be made more welcome than Roma migrants. Roma migrants were regarded as amongst the least popular, in a similar way to unskilled labourers from poor non-European countries.

 Attitudes do not appear to be closely linked to net migration figures as we find European countries with the highest levels of immigration also have positive attitudes and vice versa. 

Professor Anthony Heath, emeritus Professorial Fellow at Nuffield College and Director of Centre for Social Investigation (based at the college)

Study author Professor Anthony Heath, emeritus Professorial Fellow at Nuffield College and Director of CSI, says: 'Immigration continues to be one of the most pressing political issues in Europe, including the UK, and this survey shows that the factors influencing public attitudes towards migrants are complicated and varied. Attitudes do not appear to be closely linked to net migration figures as we find European countries with the highest levels of immigration also have positive attitudes and vice versa.

'We also find that Europeans in this sample are not against migrants per se: some migrants appear to be more welcome than others, depending on what they have to offer. Personal backgrounds have a strong influence on opinions, with older people tending to be more negative than the young, many of whom have grown up with a greater level of cultural diversity around them. The more educated are more likely to welcome migrants, while the less educated and those on lower incomes appear to be among those who feel most threatened, both symbolically and in terms of their job security and future livelihoods.'