Providing the best picture of international migration

The latest ONS figures show that migration continues to add to the UK population but there are different trends for EU and non-EU migrants. EU migration has been falling since 2016, while non-EU migration has now stabilised following gradual increases since 2013. Here Jay Lindop puts the latest figures into the context of on-going work to better understand the complexities around international migration.

This week we published the latest findings of our research into the coherence of migration data sources, including the International Passenger Survey (IPS) and Annual Population Survey (APS) alongside other administrative data sources. Based on these findings, we have made preliminary adjustments to the headline measures in the latest Migration Statistics Quarterly Report to provide our best possible assessment of migration.

The latest picture

Long-term international migration continues to add to the UK population, as an estimated 226,000 more people moved to the UK with an intention to stay 12 months or more than left in the year ending March 2019 (net migration).

In the year ending March 2019, 612,000 people moved to the UK (immigration) and 385,000 people left the UK (emigration). However, long-term immigration, emigration and net migration have remained broadly stable since the end of 2016.

There are different patterns for EU and non-EU migration. EU immigration has continued to fall since 2016 and is at its lowest level since 2013, mainly due to a fall in immigration for work.

However, there are still more EU citizens moving to the UK than leaving, although EU8 citizens, those from the Central and Eastern European countries, do not follow this general pattern. For the past year, net migration estimates have shown more EU8 citizens leaving than arriving.

In contrast, non-EU immigration has stabilised over the last year, after a gradual increase since 2013.

Work remains the main reason for EU citizens moving to the UK, while study remains the main reason for non-EU citizens moving to the UK.

The new figures and trends in this report are based on our adjusted estimates, which have been applied until 2016 for EU migration and up to the latest year for non-EU migration. It means our best assessment of EU net migration since 2016 remains our IPS-based estimates. We have been clear about its limitations and our estimates will continue to be refined in future as more data sources become available.

We are confident in our headline assessments. Any adjustments made have only had a small impact on UK net migration and the trends we see over time are largely unchanged.

Why experimental?

We are transforming our international migration statistics, making use of all available data to get a richer and deeper understanding of migration. Since July 2018, we have been integrating the outcomes of this work into the Migration Statistics Quarterly Report (MSQR) on an ongoing basis.

This MSQR is the first we have published since our reclassification to experimental statistics. It is important to provide the best overall picture of migration, using all sources available, and this is what our headline assessment does.

We have confidence in the migration trends, but our estimates are undergoing a significant period of development and evaluation, especially since new powers and data sources have become available to us through the Digital Economy Act.

The move reclassifying to experimental statistics supports this period of development and innovation.

As Deputy National Statistician Iain Bell has outlined, we expect our current work programme to be complete by this time next year when we will seek re-designation to national statistics status.

Jay Lindop is the Deputy Director of the Centre for International Migration