Why are EU citizens migrating to the UK?

6 June 2016

Net migration of EU citizens has increased sharply over the past 15 years, from less than 30,000 per year during the 1990s and early 2000s, to 184,000 in 2015. The increase is not only a result of EU enlargement. Net migration of citizens of “EU-14” countries such as Spain and France that were already EU members before 2004 was 79,000 in 2015.

More than 70% of EU citizens report that they are coming to the UK for work, and people from EU countries tend to have very high employment rates in the UK after they arrive. The strong performance of the UK economy relative to some other EU member states is thought to be an important driver of recent migration. Past research suggests that the English language and the presence of well-established migrant communities already living in the UK also contribute to its attractiveness.

A majority of EU migrants in the UK are not receiving welfare benefits, which suggests that welfare is not likely to be the major driver of decisions to move. It is difficult to predict how the National Living Wage will affect the incentive to migrate, as its impact will depend on how it affects low-wage job creation in the UK labour market more broadly.

Confident predictions about how EU migration will change in the future are not possible, since migration depends on so many factors that are themselves difficult to forecast.

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