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How is migration measured?

There are two main ways of looking at the scale of international migration:

  1. Measuring flows across an international border
  2. Counting how many people live in a particular country who are not nationals of that country or who were born abroad.

What are the UK’s latest migrations statistics?

The latest estimates on migration from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that in the year ending June 2023:

  • 1.2 million people migrated into the UK and 508,000 people emigrated from it, leaving a net migration figure of 672,000. This represents the balance of long-term migrants moving in and out of the country.

The latest ONS population estimates for the whole of the UK suggest that, in the year ending June 2021, there were:

  • 6.0 million people were living in the UK who had the nationality of a different country (9% of the total population). This does not include dual nationals where one nationality is British.
  • 3.4 million EU nationals (excluding UK) were living in the UK

As of 2019, there were around 994,000 UK nationals living in EU countries, excluding Ireland.

How has migration to the UK changed over time?

The number of people migrating to the UK has been greater than the number emigrating in each year since 1994. Before then, immigration and emigration were roughly in balance, with net migration slightly decreasing the population in most years. Over the last twenty-five years, both immigration and emigration have increased to historically high levels, with immigration exceeding emigration by more than 100,000 in every year between 1998 and 2020.

There was considerably less migration during the Covid-19 pandemic than in previous years. The pandemic also disrupted the way in which migration statistics are produced so the data from this period is subject to more uncertainty than usual.

New ways of measuring migration

The UK’s official migration estimates, which are produced by ONS are undergoing a transformation. The ONS aims  to improve their accuracy and to do so it is trying out and refining a new methodology based on administrative data.

The latest estimates use a new methodology which has been backdated to 2018. Estimates from before and after this date are not fully comparable. The new estimates are classed as experimental and are likely to be revised as the method is honed.

This briefing explains the concepts and methods used in measuring migration. It contains current and historical data on immigration, emigration and net migration in the UK. It sets out the most recent estimates of the UK’s foreign national and foreign-born populations and includes international comparisons of migration and migrant populations in European Union countries.


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