Theresa May 2019 Immigration

Ms Theresa MAY, UK Prime Minister. Copyright: European Union Event: European Council – December 2016

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Johnny Wood, Senior Writer, Formative Content

Do the costs of immigration outweigh the benefits? Not for many British people, who recent research shows are the most positive in Europe about the impact of newcomers arriving in their country.

Almost half of the British population perceives immigrants as either a positive or neutral presence, according to a global study by YouGov-Cambridge Globalism.

And while the issue has been associated with Britain’s decision to leave the European Union by some, more than one-quarter of Britons think the benefits of immigration outweigh the costs. This is higher than any other European nation – the closest countries to Britain’s view on the subject were Germany, France and Denmark.

On the move

The study of attitudes to immigration is significant as globally the number of migrants is rising, with 3% of the world’s population living in a different country to that of their birth.

In Britain, net migration added an estimated 283,000 people to the population in 2018, with the number of people arriving and leaving holding steady over the past few years. In the last decade, around 2.5 million immigrants have bolstered the population.

Image: ONS UK Government

As the above chart shows, since the Brexit referendum in 2016, Britain’s migration patterns have changed. Arrivals from non-EU countries are increasing. And while many EU citizens continue to choose the UK as their new home their numbers have fallen dramatically, dropping to levels not seen for almost a decade.

People’s perceptions

The flow of foreign arrivals is not welcomed by all Britons. More than one-third of the population saw immigration as a negative – where costs exceed benefits. However, this was still the second-lowest proportion of any European country, apart from Poland.

By comparison, half of the Italian population view immigration as a negative for the country, followed by Sweden, France and Germany.


The study also highlighted different attitudes to skilled and unskilled migrants living in Britain. Skilled workers were seen as more beneficial to the country than unskilled, although the perception of both increased if they arrive with a job offer in hand.

Around 80% of Britons agree professionally qualified migrants add value to the country, compared with slightly more than half of French respondents. This was the highest level of support of all countries surveyed.

Unskilled labourers arriving without a job offer received a less positive response, with just 14% of Britons viewing these migrants as a positive addition to the nation.

Britons also showed little empathy for refugees, with less than one-third of the population viewing arrivals fleeing conflict or persecution as nationally beneficial – the lowest of any EU state or English-speaking country.