Experimental Official Research: Net Migration In Year To June 2020 Was 282,000

Current Affairs, European Union, Legal Matters, Migration Advisory Committee, Migration Trends, Office for National Statistics

  • Acute uncertainty pervades the official measurement of immigration for a number of reasons. The abrupt cessation of the use of the tried-and-tested (albeit far-from-perfect) International Passenger Survey (IPS) for measuring immigration means that the latest estimates are based upon ‘experimental’ research derived from administrative data. Secondly, these figures cover the period including after the onset of the Covid pandemic (from late March 2020) when travel patterns would have been severely disrupted. Read more about the methodology by which these estimates were derived here, and plans for further changes here.
  • While these are not yet classified as Official Statistics (see the ONS disclaimer reproduced at the bottom of this page), they are the most up to date estimates of migration published by the government.
  • According to these new provisional estimates by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), net migration from overseas to the UK in the year ending June 2020 was just over 282,000 – about 75,000 higher than the total of 207,000 estimated for the previous year of 2018/19.
  • Total long-term immigration by all citizenships was estimated at 585,000, and total immigration by non-UK citizens was estimated at just over 500,000.
  • The net inflow of non-EU citizens was estimated to have been 282,400.
  • There was estimated to have been a net outflow of EU citizens of just under 4,000.
  • If correct, this would mean that all net foreign immigration in the year to June 2020 would have been from outside the EU.
  • For the first time in recent memory, there was estimated to have been a net inflow of just under 4,000 British citizens (in contrast to the usual annual net outflow of 50,000 to 60,000 British citizens to other countries each year).

Migration statistics can be used to estimate the flow of migrants in and out of the UK and to estimate the number of migrants living in the UK (the stock). One estimate of the flow of migrants is the United Nations definition of a migrant; someone who moves to another country for at least 12 months.

Until last August, the Office for National Statistics produced estimates of international migration based on the International Passenger Survey, a survey of passengers arriving and departing the UK. Someone arriving in the UK intending to stay for 12 months or more was treated as an immigrant and someone departing the UK intending to be away for 12 months or more was treated as an emigrant. These migration figures were also adjusted to include asylum seekers. Net migration is the number of immigrants minus the number of emigrants.

However, the figures reported in this piece are based upon a new ‘experimental’ method that the ONS is trialling after having been unable to use the tried-and-tested method during the pandemic.

Using this new methodology, the headline net migration figure for the UK for the year ending June 2020 is just over 282,000.

The graph below shows how current levels of net migration compare to previous years’ levels.

Figure 1:  Net migration from overseas to the UK has risen from minus 79,000 in 1981 to more than 282,000 in the year to June 2020. ONS Long-Term International Migration estimates, and (for 2017 to June 2020), April 2021 provisional / experimental modelling based upon administrative data.

Migration by Citizenship

The IPS had been used since the 1960s to record the nationality of those interviewed so estimates of migration by citizenship can be produced. However, while the IPS has partially re-commenced, it is clear that its use to estimate migration might be stopped altogether. The latest estimates are based upon “experimental” and “innovative” methodology following analysis of administrative data. Table 1 below shows a breakdown of these provisional figures for the year to June 2020.

More British citizens arrived in the country than left. EU net migration is currently minus 4,000 (so a net outflow) compared to a net inflow of just over 282,000 from outside the EU.

Table 1: Latest provisional and experimental migration estimates covering the year to June 2020.

 All CitizenshipsBritishNon-BritishOf which: EUOf which: Non-EU
Net Migration282,2003,700374,000-3,800282,400

The new provisional data does not break down the estimates for Western Europe (EU14), Eastern Europe (EU8) and the EU2 (Romania and Bulgaria) nor does it break down non-EU migration by citizenship of various world regions.

Further Information

The ONS produce extensive material on the methodology and accuracy of their Long Term International Migration estimates, including a user guide that covers frequently asked questions (see here).  

Next Statistics Release

This is a time of major change in the way that the Office for National Statistics chooses to measure and estimate migration. A set of net migration estimates (based upon the experimental new method based upon administrative data) are planned for early 2022 – covering the period up to April 2021.

Check back here for an update.

ONS disclaimer on statistics reported above

The ONS has asked that the following disclaimer be published alongside reporting of the estimates above: “This research does not provide official statistics on international migration. Rather, it is published to share experimental innovative methodological research on estimating international migration and, going forward, to be used in the development of Admin-Based Migration Estimates. The modelled estimates for March to June 2020 reported in this article have been the early indications of UK population size and age structure, 2020. It is important that the information and research presented are read alongside the model outputs to aid interpretation and avoid misunderstanding. These analyses and outputs must not be reproduced without this disclaimer.”

19th May 2021

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