Top Destination For British Migrants

December 1, 2014

There are in the region of 5 million UK nationals who live overseas, often attracted by the idea of migration for work, culture and a wide variety of personal reasons. However, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), one of the country’s leading think tanks, the official figures should always be taken with an element of doubt. The UK government relies on figures reached for by their own body, the Office for National Statistics (ONS). However, by their own admission, the ONS International Passenger Survey does not tell the whole story. It only gives an indication of the movements of British nationals who choose to migrate via airports and sea ports, for instance. Furthermore, the ONS survey does not take account of the numbers leaving the UK permanently, so filtering out migrants from long-term holidaymakers is something that is tricky if you only look at the official government numbers.

Despite this statistical discord, the IPPR and the official figures are in agreement about the most popular destination for British migrants. According to the ONS survey, Australia tops the league of places that migrants from the UK are heading to. The official figures state that 1,035,526 have chosen to migrate to Australia, but IPPR estimate that the true number is even greater. By their estimation, British people who have settled their permanently – that is, resided for more than one year in the country – is some 36,500 more. If part-time immigrants from the UK are included, then the figure is a whopping 1,083,000, according to IPPR, although this includes people who only plan to live in Australia for a period that is fewer than twelve months and who are not, therefore, fully-fledged migrants.

It may come as some surprise to people interested in the issue of migration within the European Union to learn that by far the most popular place for Britons to migrate to lies outside of the EU’s borders. Furthermore, when you consider that the population of the UK is about 64 million people, it is noteworthy – to say the least – that well over 1 per cent of that number chooses to reside in a country on the other side of the world. To put it in another context, over 7 per cent of the UK’s population have immigrated compared with just 0.8 per cent of the population of the United States.

Both IPPR and ONS agree with the second place on the list – the United States. Both bodies have more reliable figures, presumably down to the counting of visa applications required by British national to enter the US. They concur that around 829,000 UK migrants live in America. However, the figures for Canada, which is third on the list, are somewhat more problematic. The ONS survey states that some 594,790 Brits have migrated to Canada, but IPPR estimate that the figure should be a good deal higher, at 611,000. Like Australia, Canada offers a common colonial history that is shared with Britain as well as having English as one of its official languages, of course. Along with the US, this may well account for its popularity.

Fourth on the list of desirable destinations for British migrants is Spain, the first European nation to appear. According to the ONS statistics, 317,950 migrants have chosen to reside in Spain. However, by IPPR’s estimation, the number of UK migrants in Spain is vastly larger. They claim the figure is in excess of 800,000 which would make it third. Perhaps the variation may be down to the way data is collected by ONS which is harder for them to gather, due to the freedom of movement citizens of EU countries enjoy. The number of UK-born people residing in Spain is also a tricky one to quantify because a significant proportion of the people concerned will have chosen not to register as residents. According to the last Spanish census, conducted in 2007, there were 269,470 British people, but this trebles as soon as the population of non-registered - but permanently residing - Brits are included.

According to the ONS survey, New Zealand is fifth on the list. No less than 252,960 British-born people have immigrated to the country. In the case of New Zealand, it appears that IPPR basically agree with the official government number and their estimate varies very little. However, when it comes to the sixth most popular destination, the two bodies disagree once more. The ONS put the number of Brits who have immigrated in France at 157,806, but IPPR say the figure is much more likely to be in excess of a quarter of a million. The most favoured regions for British migrants are the Dordogne, Alpes-Maritimes and Paris.

The next most popular countries, according to the government data, are South Africa, the Republic of Ireland, Germany and Switzerland.

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