What is the problem?

  • The issue is the huge and rising scale of immigration (a record 1.1 million residence visas were granted to non-UK nationals in year to mid-2022 - par. 1)
  • Immigration added around seven million to the UK population in the two decades up to 2020 – accounting for over four-fifths of total growth (par. 11)
  • Mass immigration places mounting pressure on already-overstretched public services. There were nearly 700,000 new GP registrations by migrants in 2019/20 (par. 14).
  • Record immigration requires a home to be built in England every five minutes to meet the skyrocketing demand for homes (par. 17)
  • An extensive body of research has consistently found that immigration is a huge cost to the UK Treasury (£13 billion per year - UCL study, 2014/15) – with non-EU immigration (which is presently the fastest rising tranche of immigration) having the biggest fiscal costs (para 19).
  • Six in ten of the public support reducing immigration (Deltapoll) and nearly 8 in 10 say the government is handling immigration poorly (YouGov). (Par. 23).
  • Demos found in 2018 that about three-quarters of the public considered that immigration had increased divisions (para 27).
  • Politicians’ repeated promises to reduce and control immigration have been blatantly abandoned and betrayed, harming voter trust and democracy itself.


1. Immigration is a natural part of an open economy and society. The problem is that the current level of immigration into the UK is much too high. In the year to June 2022, there were 1.1 million visas granted to foreign nationals to come and live in the UK – by far the highest on record (and about equivalent to the population of Britain’s second largest city Birmingham). Meanwhile, the most recent ONS figures issued (for the year to June 2021) put the level of net immigration at 239,000 per year. The authorities have shown themselves unable or unwilling to ensure that our borders are protected and secure, with more than 100,000 people having entered the country via illegal means in just under five years. The level of immigration needs to be reduced and proper and effective control of the UK border must be restored.

2. The crux of the debate is not ‘immigration: yes or no’? The key questions are whether immigration is benefiting the country, whether it is running at a level which is acceptable to ordinary citizens and whether it is being controlled in a lawful manner. A country has the right to decide who to allow in. All countries have border controls and all face legitimate questions over who to admit and who to turn away. The key questions are about who and how many people are good for our economy and society.

3. As is befitting an organisation that is chaired by a first-generation migrant (see more here), we know only too well that most migrants come here for an admirable reason, to try to better their lives. Many of those from overseas make a positive contribution to our society, including entrepreneurs, artists, medical staff and scientists. However, as many migrants themselves recognise, the UK is already a very crowded place by international standards, and the current pace of immigration-driven population growth is placing serious pressure on our roads, trains, hospitals, GP surgeries, schools and natural resources – all of which are struggling to cope.

4. Many people are also concerned about the way in which immigration is leading to rapid cultural and societal change. As the former integration czar Baroness Louise Casey has said, some areas have changed ‘beyond recognition’ in a very short space of time (see media report). Indeed, this process is accelerating, with a number of communities finding that their local way of life is being very rapidly changed.

5. Many also believe that the abysmal failure to effectively control immigration on the part of the government is having a harmful impact on public safety and on fundamental British values such as freedom of expression and religion, as well as equality of opportunity for women and for those in the LGBTQ+ community.

The scale of immigration

6. The scale of immigration over the past 20 years is unprecedented in our history. The UK has always experienced periods of immigration never on remotely the same scale as that which we have witnessed over the past two decades or so (see a history of immigration to the UK).

7. In 1997, net migration was just 47,000. In the years that followed it rose to well over 200,000 and reached 267,000 in 2005. Under the last Labour government (1997-2010) an extra 3.6 million foreign migrants arrived, while one million British citizens left. (Read more about Labour’s record on immigration from 1997 to 2010).

8. The coalition government elected in 2010 pledged to reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’ (a promise that was repeated in 2015 and 2017). However, overall net migration rose to a more than a third of a million – even higher than under Labour. This is largely because net migration from the EU doubled over the last Parliament due to the ongoing disparity in wealth between Eastern Europe and the UK together with the impact of the Eurozone crisis on Southern Europe (See here). This no doubt contributed significantly to the June 2016 referendum result

9. The current Conservative government has failed to reduce immigration as it promised. In fact, the situation has run out of control in the opposite direction. According to the most recent estimates, net migration stood at nearly 240,000 in the year to June 2021. Meanwhile, more up-to-date Home Office figures suggest that immigration has reached an all-time high, with a record 1.1. million visas for people to come and live in the UK issued over the past year. See figure 1 below and read more about the latest net migration estimates.

Figure 1: Entry clearance visas for overseas nationals to live in the UK, 2005-2022

Why is the current level of immigration a problem?

10. The current population density of England is 429 people per square kilometre (ONS, 2020/21), ahead of the Netherlands which has 423/km2. This makes England the most densely populated nation in Europe. It is 3.5 times as crowded as France (116/km2) and just under twice as crowded as Germany (232/km2). The UK as a whole (271/km2) is also the most crowded large country in Europe.

11. High immigration is driving rapid population growth. New data from the 2021 Census shows that 57.5% of the growth of the population of England and Wales. was due to the direct impact of net immigration, while a significant share of so-called ‘natural increase’ is also related to immigration (i.e. a result of births to non-UK born parents). Indeed, we have calculated that well-over four-fifths of total population growth since 2001 was due directly or indirectly to immigration, rising to 90% in 2017-19 and probably higher still since then.

12. The UK population stood at 67 million in 2020/21 (and rose by eight million or so over the previous twenty years, with about seven million of this directly or indirectly linked to immigration). See our latest paper on this topic and our population summary.

Figure 2: UK population size, 1971 to 2020 (Office for National Statistics).

13. Net migration has averaged around 250,000 per year over the past two decades. Every two years the ONS makes a set of projections setting out how it thinks the size of the UK population will change over the course of the next few decades. Each projection factors in different expected levels of immigration. The graph below shows the four most recent such projections and the level of immigration that was factored in. The 2018-projection estimated that international immigration would account for 79% of total projected growth over the decade until mid-2028 (see the official ONS population projections).

Figure 3: Population projections at different levels of migration. 2018-based ONS population projections.

14. Under all these projections the population looks set to rise further from its present record size of 67 million (as of 2020), hitting 70 million over the next 10 to 15 years. As a result of such growth, huge amounts will have to be spent on the expansion of school places, roads, rail, health and other infrastructure (read more about the impact of immigration on public services and infrastructure). For example, in 2019-2020 there were nearly 700,000 new GP registrations by migrants (ONS statistics).

15. There has been no recent official projection but a number of academic projections in the past decade or so suggest that, on present policies, the share of the White British as a proportion of the total population will continue to decline. Furthermore, the political influence of minorities will become much stronger well before then as all political parties compete for their votes. The results of three of the most recent projections, which all include estimates for 2061, are set out in Table 2 below:

Table 1: Academic projections of the composition of the UK population in 2061.

ProjectionYear of publicationNon-WhiteAll other WhitesWhite British
1. Lomax et al.201923-30%10-12%60-65%
2. Rees et al.201730%-70 (incl. All other Whites)
3. Coleman201036%10%54%

16. A similar range of projections for Britain and EU countries have been made by Eurostat (Lanzieri 2011) and by some European academics. All the projections above expect the White British population to diminish in absolute and relative terms. The first two projections do not extend beyond 2061 but trends in all three point towards a situation in which the White British population would become a minority of the UK. However, all projections depend on the assumptions made and events could change them in either direction.

17. Mass immigration is clearly worsening the housing crisis. It has ‘increased the overall demand for housing’ (says the ONS) and ‘increases house prices’ (according to the Journal of Housing Economics - July 2019). One home will have to be built every five minutes, night and day, just to cope with record levels of immigration to England (ONS projections).

18. Unless immigration is brought down the housing crisis will continue indefinitely, largely to the detriment of our young people. The UK’s green countryside will continue to be swallowed up by construction of housing. (Read more about the impact of immigration on housing), along with our summary about the increasing numbers of UK councils setting aside green belt land to be bulldozed (see here).

Little benefit for the UK population and harmful for the poorest

19. Claims that immigration represents a fiscal benefit to the UK are false (for more see our economics briefing). The academic research points to immigration resulting in a clear fiscal cost to the UK. Between 1995 and 2011, immigrants in the UK cost at least £114 billion, or about £18m a day (University College London research, 2014). More recently, for the year 2016/17, a 2018 report for the Migration Advisory Committee estimated that immigrants overall cost the Exchequer £4.3 billion, adding to the UK's fiscal deficit (A net contribution of £4.7bn by EEA migrants was considerably outweighed by a cost of £9bn for non-EEA migrants - - see par. 4.11 of MAC report). On this evidence, immigration does not generate the tax receipts needed for migrants to 'pay their way' let alone to finance the new infrastructure or anything else required by rapid population growth.

20. Although immigration-driven population growth can lead to an increase in GDP (because more people make for a larger economy), immigration does not seem to have had a notable beneficial impact the UK’s GDP per head. Indeed, GDP per capita fell between 2008 and 2020 despite an increase of 2.5 million in the number of overseas-born workers in UK employment.

21. Additionally, despite the number of immigrant workers growing by over two million since 2006, productivity (key to economic performance) has essentially flat-lined. Arguments that immigration to the UK is vital for the economy, in particular that it is enhancing of UK productivity, are often disingenuous and exaggerated. The findings of cross-country studies are not necessarily applicable to the UK – indeed they appear not to be so in key regards – and the findings of UK studies fail to provide convincing support to these arguments (for more, read this May 2019 paper: ‘Immigration and UK productivity’).

22. The numbers of both UK-born and non-UK born people in employment continues to grow (see ONS statistics), with the number passing six million for the first time during 2021. However, the availability of a large pool of labour from abroad has taken the pressure off employers to raise wages (see Blanchflower, National Institute Economic Review, 2015). Uncontrolled, mass immigration is likely to be holding back wages for those in direct competition for work, which is often those who are already on low pay – both UK-born and previous migrants. A 2015 Bank of England study found a negative impact on the wages of those in the lower skilled services sector in which millions of UK workers are employed. Meanwhile, the Resolution Foundation has found that immigration over the period 2009-2016 ‘resulted in native wages for those in skilled trades occupations [electricians, plumbers and bricklayers] being 2.1% lower’ (pp. 16-17 of their report).

Public Opinion

23. The public have different views on different types of immigration. However, there is polling evidence to suggest that a majority want immigration reduced. Deltapoll surveys conducted in mid-2021 mid-2022 consistently found that around six in ten voters want a reduction in immigration levels (see more here and here). Separately, YouGov found that the share saying that immigration had been too high over the past decade was a clear majority of 53% (YouGov, as at October 2022) (read more about public opinion regarding immigration).

24. In its 2019 manifesto, the Conservative Party promised to reduce the overall level of immigration. This clear pledge has been blatantly broken in the midst of record visa grants, and unprecedented levels of illegal immigration, for example by small boats. A failure to deliver on promises has undoubtedly contributed to public disillusionment and distrust on this topic. In August 2022, only 11% said that the government was handling immigration well (while a record 78% said it was handling immigration badly).

25. Only by delivering a major reduction in immigration can the government begin to remedy what has become a huge credibility gap. In a democracy, it is essential that public policy is responsive to the public’s wishes and that election promises are honoured.

The unity of our society

26. “Too many people coming too quickly into a society makes it difficult to retain a sense of cohesion and stability” (Policy Exchange, 2017): Immigration is simply too high for successful integration to occur. In 2016, Dame Louise Casey reported that some areas of the UK were ‘changing out of all recognition’ and struggling to cope with the pace of transformation, while also pointing to a growth in ‘regressive ideologies’. These included religious and cultural practices targeting women and children (female genital mutilation, forced marriage, 'honour' based crime, educational segregation and stultification) and the ‘hate and stigmatisation’ of LGBTQ+ people.

27. Polling also indicates that UK society is becoming more fractured as the result of immigration. Demos found that around three quarters of the public said in 2018 that immigration had increased divisions. According to Eurofound, around half of the public believe immigration has led to a high level of tension. Reducing immigration, and restoring border control, is crucial to ensuring a cohesive community in which all are treated with dignity and in which British culture and values are protected and enriched.

Updated 17 October 2022