United Kingdom

Background InformationCapital: London, England
Languages: English, other recognised regional languages
Area: 242,900 km2 (including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)
Population (2005): 60,209,500
Population density (2002): 244 inhabitants per km2
Population growth (2001-2005): +1.2%
Foreign-born population as a percentage of total population (2001): 8.3%
Population comprised of minority ethnic groups (2001): 7.9%
Labour force participation rate (2006): 76.7% (OECD)
Percentage of foreign-born employees amongst gainfully employed (2005): 5.4%
Unemployment rate: 5.4% (2006), 4.7% (2005), 4.7% (2004) (OECD)
Religions (2001): Christian (72%), Muslim (3%), Hindu (1%), Sikh (0.6%), Jewish (0.5%) Buddhist (0.3%), Other (0.3%), No religion / not stated (23%)


Development of Immigration Policy

Until 1962, Commonwealth immigrants had, as British subjects, enjoyed unimpeded access to the United Kingdom3, and in the 1950s some 500,000 migrants, mostly young, single men, travelled to the UK. A Conservative government enacted the first immigration controls in 1962, and the Labour opposition bitterly denounced the measure as populist and racist. Two years later, the Labour government was in power, and it quickly recognised that family reunification meant that every pre-1962 migrant would bring in two to four subsequent migrants in the form of his family members. It abandoned its previous commitment to open borders and extended immigration controls in 1965.45

The Immigrant Population

While immigrants are often popularly thought of as minority ethnic populations, for statistical purposes, they are more narrowly described here as current residents born outside of the UK. In 2001, 4.9 million (8.3%) of the total population of the UK were born overseas, a doubling of the foreign-born proportion of the population since 1951. The largest increase in the postwar decades, of nearly 1.1 million people, occurred in the decade from 1991 to 2001. In contrast, the next largest increase occurred in the period 1961-1971, when 600,000 people were added to the population through immigration. The proportion of foreign-born residents from European countries fell from 51% in 1971 to 33% in 2001. In 2001, 53% of the foreign-born population was classified as White.6 The next largest groups were Indian (12%) and Pakistani (7%).

It is estimated that 0.5-1% of economic growth in the UK is contributed by migrants, though critics of immigration dispute these figures. The medical and health sector is particularly dependent on immigrants, with 31% of the doctors and 13% of the nurses working in the UK born abroad. Other sectors of immigrant concentration for which statistics are available are education (13% of teaching staff), hospitality (70% of catering jobs), and agriculture (70,000 migrant workers help in harvesting according to National Farmers Union).

Figure 1 shows total international migration into and out of the UK between 1995 and 2005. Following past patterns, employed migrants who come to the UK from more developed countries are more likely to leave again, while those from elsewhere are more likely to stay. British citizens are the largest group of emigrants, with Australia and Spain the most popular destinations. Net outflows of British citizens have increased from 17,000 in 1994 to 107,000 in 2005. At the same time, net inflows of non-British citizens increased from 127,000 in 1995 to 292,000 in 2005.

Immigration numbers can be further summarised in terms of foreign labour inflows. Foreign labour immigration has seen an enormous increase since the 2004 accession of ten countries to the EU and the granting of labour market access to the Eastern and Central European A8 countries.7

Workers entering through the WRS and work permit system differ in terms of skill levels, with 82% of those entering the UK from the A8 states holding lower-skilled jobs while 89% of work permit approvals are for managerial, professional or technical positions. Decline in work permit numbers in the last few years in the health and medical and hospitality sectors are almost certainly a consequence in part of the arrival of A8 citizens.8

Settlement can be granted on arrival but also increasingly reflects adjustments to the status of those originally admitted under other programmes. Figure 3 shows grants by type. The fastest growing category is that of employment-related grants, with settlement granted after five years of employment with a work permit (increased from four years in 2006). Asylum-related grants have also grown in both absolute and relative terms, comprising 26% of grants in 2001, and 38% of grants in 2005. Family formation and reunion grants have seen the largest decline, comprising 52% of grants in 2001 and 21% in 2005.

Ethnic and minority populations


leitmotifBritish multiculturalism redefined?

Integration Policy

Anti-discrimination policies
10Education policies
1112Policies on policing

Religion and Diversity

The Satanic Verses. The publication led the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran to issue a fatwa sentencing the author to death. The fatwa made international headlines, but of greater local interest was the reaction of British Muslims: large demonstrations against Rushdie in Trafalgar square, replete with an effigy of Rushdie with a slashed throat, and copies of the book burned in northern England.

Since the September 11th1415 As a backdrop to these arguments, in December 2004, a Birmingham theatre cancelled a play portraying sex abuse and murder in a temple following violent Sikh protests.16 In the face of these criticisms, the bill was withdrawn and re-introduced, setting a much higher bar for prosecution. For instance, racial hatred has to be intentional and prosecution can only be initiated by the British government, not by aggrieved individuals.


jus solith century, anyone born within the realm of the British monarch was a subject of that monarch, and British-subject status was the basis of British nationality right up to 1981. This basic principle was carried over into the age of empire, and all those born within the British Empire were British subjects who enjoyed, in theory, full rights within the UK. This system was reaffirmed in 1948, and it meant that the 500,000 non-White British subjects who entered the UK before 1962 did so not as immigrants but as citizens. The UK ended pure jus soli (which now exists nowhere in Europe) in 1981, but there has otherwise been a high degree of continuity in citizenship policy. All those born in the UK to permanent residents, citizens, or recognised refugees are citizens at birth. Others may naturalise after three years of marriage to a UK citizen or after five years of residence in the UK. Dual citizenship is fully accepted.

Approximately 61% of the foreign-born population resident in the UK for six or more years in 2005 had taken up British citizenship.

A US-style citizenship ceremony with an oath of allegiance to the Queen and the UK was introduced in 2004. Since 2005, prospective citizens have had to pass a citizenship test17

Refuge and Asylum


Irregular Migration

1920 provoked alternative proposals.

Increases in deportation of irregular migrants in 2005 (15,685 people) and 2006 (18,235) encountered growing civil society resistance, including calls for regularisation of some 500,000 illegal residents and anti-deportation activism supported by the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC). Although the government has unequivocally rejected any talk of amnesty so far, as of May 2007 65 Labour party backbenchers led by Jon Cruddas had signed a motion lending their support to the Strangers Into Citizens regularisation proposal212223

Current Issues and Future Challenges

Accession-related migration and migration control

In general, net immigration figures in the early years of the millennium were three times that of the early 1990s (175,000 per year vs. 58,000 per year, averaged over three years). These numbers are considerably higher than they were in the 1960s, when immigration became a national crisis leading to a sharp public reaction against it. Experience in other European countries suggests that public opinion turns decisively against immigration in the context of large-scale arrivals and28

Integration outcomes

These economic outcomes do not correlate perfectly with educational achievement. In the tertiary sector, Black students start at the age of five at the same broad level as the national average. By the age of 10, they have fallen behind, particularly in mathematics, and far fewer Black students secure five GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education, broadly equivalent to the North American high school diploma) than the average student.30 Indian students, by contrast, achieve results above the national average, particularly in their GCSEs. At the university level, the results are overall more positive. For entry to university, Indian, Pakistani, and Afro-Caribbean women exceed the national average, as do Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi men.31 They are, however, disproportionately placed at the least prestigious universities: 70% of Afro-Caribbean men and 60% of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi students study at universities that were former polytechnics (technical schools or community colleges), compared to 35% of the overall population.3233 Black men and women fall between these two groups. The literature is, however, less clear on why they pay this penalty. Scholars have suggested that discrimination in hiring and promotion practices34 accounts for the distinction. It is certainly plausible that discrimination partially accounts for higher unemployment and lower wages among visible minorities, but this explanation cannot easily account for variance in ethnic minority performance. It is not obvious why one group of South Asians (Bangladeshis) would pay a higher ethnic penalty than another (Indians).

The ethnic penalty might largely be a linguistic (and thus educational) penalty. This explains the common concern with language within civic integration policies: the failure to speak the national language fluently sharply limits economic opportunity in the post-industrial European economy.

Reducing this ethnic penalty remains a central challenge for policy-making. Steps should be taken to ensure that wage gaps between certain visible minorities and Whites be erased. Both research and the Indian/Pakistani contrasts suggest that language and education are as important, if not more so, than racism.
Second-generation radicalisation



  1. See Hansen (2000).
  2. Ipsos MORI (2007). "April Political Monitor.
  3. See Hansen (2000).
  4. See Hansen (2000).
  5. Under the Working Holidaymaker Scheme, persons aged 17 to 30 from Commonwealth countries and British Overseas Territories can come to the United Kingdom for an extended holiday of up to two years; they are entitled to work for up to 12 months within this two-year period.
  6. See section on ethnic and minority populations for an explanation of the ethnic categories applied in UK statistics.
  7. That is, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
  8. Because numbers are so high among WRS workers, even the small proportion found in higher-skill work amounts to a large absolute number. See Salt and Millar (2006): 348-9.
  9. An Orangeman is a member of the Protestant Orange order, which is associated with a puritan moral outlook and anti-Catholicism. Unionism in this context refers to strong support in Northern Ireland for remaining within the United Kingdom and hostility to Irish nationalism.
  10. See Bleich (2003).
  11. In 2003, estate agents estimated that access to a good state school added EUR 69,000 to the price of a house. For particular schools, the figure can be closer to EUR 220,000, or double the price of an average UK house.
  12. See Curtis (2005).
  13. See Home Office (2003).
  14. See Ash (2005).
  15. See Ash (2005).
  16. Theatre Ends Play in Sikh Protest.
  17. Do Obligatory Civic Integration Courses for Immigrants in Western Europe further Integration?
  18. Reid targets illegal immigrants.
  19. Phoney policies only backfire.
  20. See Ruhs (2006).
  21. EU Expansion and the Free Movement of Workers: Do Continued Restrictions Make Sense for Germany?
  22. UK Home Office announces illegal immigration crackdown.
  23. UK industry welcomes immigration curbs.
  24. See Layton-Henry (1994).
  25. See Berthoud (2000).
  26. See Parekh (2000).
  27. See Parekh (2000).
  28. See Parekh (2000).
  29. See Carmichael and Woods (2000); Berthoud (2000).
  30. See Carmichael and Woods (2000); Berthoud (2000).

About the Author:
Dr. Randall Hansen is Associate Professor of Political Science and holds the Canada Research Chair in Immigration and Governance at the University of Toronto, Canada. E-mail: r.hansen@utoronto.ca


References and Further Reading

    • Stop this folly now.
    • Theatre ends play in Sikh protest.
    • Bleich, E. (2003): Race Politics in Britain and France: Ideas and Policymaking since the 1960s. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    • Hansen, R. (2000): Citizenship and Immigration in Postwar Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • Home Office (2006): Control of Immigration: Statistics United Kingdom 2005. London.
    • Home Office, Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue & Customs and Department for Communities and Local Government (2007): .
    • Lieberman, R. (2005): Race, State, and Policy: American Race Politics in Comparative Perspective. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
    • Parekh, B. (2000): The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain: The Parekh Report. London: Profile Books.
    • Ruhs, M. (2006): Greasing the Wheels of the Flexible Labour Market: East European Labour Immigration in the UK. Working Paper No. 38. Centre on Migration, Policy and Society. University of Oxford.
    • Salt, J. and Millar, J. (2006): Foreign Labour in the United Kingdom: Current Patterns and Trends. Office for National Statistics, Labour Market Trends, October 2006.

Internet Sources

Migration Research Group
Netzwerk Migration in Europa e.V.