What is the problem?

  • The issue is the huge scale of immigration (para 2)
  • It is now massive compared to the past (para 6)
  • It is adding more than a million to the UK population every three years (para 11)
  • Mass immigration places major pressure on public services. There were an average of 2,000 new GP registrations by migrants per day in 2016/17 (para 15)
  • Current levels of immigration to England will require a home to be built every six minutes, night and day (para 16)
  • Immigrants overall were a net fiscal cost to the Exchequer of £4.3 billion in 2016/17
  • Nearly three-quarters of the public supports a large reduction in immigration levels, according to a 2018 Deltapoll (para 20)
  • Demos found that about three-quarters of the public considered that immigration had increased divisions (para 23).


1. Immigration is a natural part of an open economy and society. The problem for the UK is that the current level of immigration is much too high. There needs to be a significant reduction in the level of international net migration (the number of immigrants minus the number of emigrants) which has averaged nearly 300,000 per annum since 2014 – equivalent to the population of Newcastle arriving each year.

2. Opponents of tighter immigration control often try to present the debate as being either ‘for’ or ‘against’ migration. That is quite wrong. The issue is with its scale and with the dismissal of the public’s views on a matter of vital importance. A country has the right to decide who to allow in. Accordingly, all countries have border controls and all face legitimate questions over who to admit and who to turn away. The key question is who and how many people are good for our economy and society. Immigration policy, like any other policy, needs to be managed in the best interests of the UK and of its citizens.

3. As is befitting an organisation that is chaired by a first-generation migrant, we at Migration Watch UK know only too well that most migrants come here for an admirable reason, to try to better their lives. A huge number of those from overseas make a positive contribution to our society. However, as many migrants themselves recognise, 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 change. Indeed, some communities have been transformed forever and the local way of life has now been largely displaced.

5. Many also believe that the ongoing process of mass immigration is having a harmful impact on fundamental British values such as freedom of expression and freedom of religion, and equality of opportunity for women and those in the LGBT 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 here).

7. In 1997, net migration was just 47,000. In the years that followed it rose to well over 200,000 and reached 320,000 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 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 and 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 has promised to do. According to the most recent estimates, net migration stood at just over 250,000 in the year 2018. Although EU net migration has fallen substantially in recent years, non-EU net migration remains at historically high levels (over 230,000 per year). See figure 1 below and read more about the latest net migration estimates.

Figure 1: Net migration from overseas to the UK, 1975 to 2018

Why is the current level of immigration a problem?

10. The UK (and especially England) is already densely populated by international standards. At 430 people per square kilometre, England is nearly twice as crowded as Germany (227) people per sq/km) and more than three times as crowded as France (117 people per sq/km).

11. High immigration is driving rapid population growth. Immigration added one million to the population every three years during the period 2001-2016. The current rate of UK population growth is higher than in 47 out of the past 65 years (read this paper on immigration and population growth).

12. In 2016, nearly three-quarters of people said Britain was already crowded (YouGov, May 2016). In 2018, 64% of the public said the level of projected population growth was too high (YouGov, July 2018).

13. The UK population stood at 66.4 million in mid-2018 (see figure 2 below) and has risen by more than 7.7 million over the past twenty years.

Figure 2: UK population growth since 1971

14. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) projects that, if net migration remains at about the current level of nearly 250,000 per year, the UK population will increase by a total just under 400,000 per year until 2041. In the long term this would lead to growth of 9.7 million people over a 25-year period. We would surpass 70 million in 2026. ONS projections show that around 82% of the total increase by 2041 would be the result of immigration (see the official ONS population projections).

Figure 3: Population projections at different levels of migration.

15. The ONS has said that ‘in addition to the direct impact of migration on the size of the population, current and past international migration also has indirect effects on the size of the population as it changes the numbers of births and deaths in the UK’. In 2017, 28.4% of all births in England and Wales were to mothers born outside of the UK. Meanwhile, in 2016/17, there were 730,000 new registrations with GPs by those from overseas in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – or an average of 2,000 per day. While a note of caution is required in that some migrants may have been here short-term or could have moved between homes in the UK and been double counted in the statistics, most registrations were more likely to have been new arrivals, here for protracted periods.

16. To cope with this population increase 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). Well over half of the public (58%) think immigration already places a large amount of pressure on public services (Ipsos MORI, 2017). There is one new GP registration by someone from overseas every minute (ONS statistics).

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 six minutes, night and day, just to cope with the current level of net immigration to England (ONS projections). Unless immigration is brought sharply down the housing crisis will continue indefinitely, largely to the detriment of our young people. At the same time the UK’s precious green countryside will continue to be swallowed up by construction of the extra housing required (Read more about the impact of immigration on housing).

Little benefit for the UK population and harmful for the poorest

18. Claims that immigration represents a fiscal benefit to the UK are false (for more here is 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 (with a net contribution of £4.7bn by EEA migrants 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.

19. The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast that the UK economy will continue to grow at a modest rate into 2021 (see Financial Times report). Mass immigration is a factor in this because more people make for a larger economy. However, immigration does not seem to have had any clear beneficial impact the UK’s GDP per head so has not necessarily made for a better economy. Indeed, growth in GDP per capita has effectively stalled over the past decade. Additionally, despite the number of immigrant workers growing by over two million since 2006, productivity (key to economic performance) has essentially flat-lined (for more, read this May 2019 paper: ‘Immigration and UK productivity’). As the MAC has said: “The impact of migration on aggregate productivity may be mixed”.

20. The numbers of both UK-born and non-UK born people in employment continues to grow (see ONS statistics). 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). 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 found in 2016 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 

21. While the public have a nuanced view on different types of immigration, Ipsos MORI have found that three in every five UK adults supports a reduction in immigration levels. Deltapoll finds that nearly three quarters of those surveyed in 2018 wanted a significant reduction. In addition, a 2019 YouGov-Cambridge Globalism poll found that 72% of respondents did not say that the benefits of immigration outweighed the costs (read more about public opinion regarding immigration).

22. In its 2017 election manifesto the Conservative Party stated (see p.48) that it would bring net migration down ‘to the tens of thousands’ and ‘bear down on immigration from outside the EU’. A failure to deliver on such promises has undoubtedly contributed to public disillusionment and distrust on this topic. Only 17% of the public think that the government tells the truth on the issue either all or most of the time (British Future). 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

23. “Too many people coming too quickly into a society makes it difficult to retain a sense of cohesion and stability” (Policy Exchange, 2017): This suggests that immigration levels needs to be reduced. In 2016, Dame Louise Casey reported that some areas of the UK were struggling to cope with the pace and scale of change while 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 LGBT people.

24. 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. Bringing the level of immigration down by a large amount is crucial to ensuring a cohesive community in which all are treated with dignity and British culture and values are protected and enriched.

25. Our paper “What should be done” explains what steps need to be taken to bring immigration down.

Updated 11 July 2019

We use cookies to help us improve the website.

I Understand About Cookies



Keep up with the debate: If you would like us to keep you informed about the immigration debate, please subscribe here to receive regular updates.