Immigration UK has different roots than immigration in other countries, such as the US. The United Kingdom has a long history of colonialism, or going into other countries and declaring that it was now in charge of them. According to the Independent, at the height of the British Empire, the UK had control of about one-fifth of the world’s population and one-quarter of the land mass in the world.

UK colonialism didn’t just lead to an influx of British people into the countries the empire overtook. It also led to an outflow of people from the colonized countries to the UK. As a result, the mix of people who call themselves British today is a lot more diverse than it was a few centuries ago.  

Today, immigration UK is a bit of a hot-button issue, and was one of the driving forces behind the country’s decision to “Brexit,” or leave the European Union. Learn more about immigration UK, including who’s immigrating, how the process is governed, and how people feel about it.

UK Immigration Statistics

United Kingdom immigration statistics include something known as net migration, according to the Office of National Statistics. Net migration in the UK fell to 248,000 in 2016. That meant that 175,000 non-EU citizens and 133,000 EU citizens arrived in the country that year, while 60,000 UK citizens left and went somewhere else.

UK immigration is down recently, possibly in large part due to Brexit. As the UK’s future relationship with the European Union is unclear, many EU citizens have decided to pull up stakes and head back to their home country or another country in the Union. Meanwhile, people from other countries have been less likely to move into the UK.

Although United Kingdom immigration has dropped most recently, the country did experience a surge of immigrants throughout much of the 20th century and into the 21st. From 1993 until 2015, the number of foreign-born people in the UK more than doubled, from 3.8 million to more than 8.7 million.

Of those migrants, women tend to outnumber men by a small margin. For example, in 2015, women made up 52 percent of the foreign-born population in Britain.

UK Immigration Laws

The United Kingdom immigration laws have gotten slightly stricter over the years, at least for specific groups of people or citizens of certain countries. For example, rules that went into effect in 2016 required that migrant workers who weren’t from the EU earn at least £35,000 per year to remain in the UK, according to the Guardian. People who earned less than that amount could face deportation.

UK immigration laws also limit who can bring a spouse to the country. As of 2012, the laws only allow people who earn more than £18,600 to sponsor a visa for a spouse from a non-EU country, the Express reported.

For some people, getting the documentation and paperwork needed to immigrate to the UK is relatively easy. For example, anyone who was born in Britain or a British colony before 1983 is usually automatically considered a British citizen and can travel freely to the country and remain for as long as he or she wishes, without immigration controls.

Some people can also qualify for immigration and UK citizenship if they can prove UK ancestry. To do that, a person needs to be a citizen of a Commonwealth country and needs to have at least one grandparent born in the UK.

How Does a Person Immigrate to the UK?

Immigrating to the UK isn’t so simple as packing your bags and hopping on a plane. Unless you can prove citizenship or that you have UK ancestry, you need to have a pretty good reason to make your home in the UK.

For example, you can’t just move to the UK and hope that someone will hire you. Usually, you need to have the job offer in hand before you start the visa application process.  

Your reason for immigrating to the UK will determine which type of visa you can apply for and which type of visa or permit you’d be most likely to receive.

Visa options include:

  • Tier 1 Visas – Usually reserved for famous people (under the Tier 1 “Exceptional Talent” visa) or business people looking to start a company and have the money to support themselves (under the “Entrepreneur” visa). There used to be Tier 1 General visa, which was opened to skilled people from anywhere, but the UK discontinued it.
  • Tier 2 Visas – Tier 2 General visas are usually available to people who have a solid job offer from an employer in the UK. There are also versions of the visa available for religious leaders, people being transferred to a UK branch of their current employer and sports people.
  • Tier 5 Visas – Tier 5 visas are usually for people who plan on living and working in the UK for a short amount of time. One is specially designed for people under age 30 who want to live and work in the UK for up to 2 years.
  • Student Visas – Student visas, or Tier 4 visas, are for people over age 16 who plan on enrolling or studying in a course in the UK. You need to have proof of financial support and resources to earn the visa.
  • Family Visas – Are designed for spouses, children, parents and other relatives who want to live with a relative in the UK for more than six months.
  • Asylum – Not really a visa, but a necessity for people who immigrate to the UK as refugees and want to remain in the country.

Why Do People Immigrate to the UK?

People have a range of reasons for wanting to immigrate to the UK, which is partly demonstrated by the variety of visas available. Generally speaking, you can break down people’s reasons for immigrating into four main categories:

  • Economic. When people move for economic reasons, they are usually looking for a better job or opportunity to earn enough to support their families. Some people are offered positions in the UK that pay more than they would earn in their home countries. Others might fill skills gaps in the UK and be persuaded to move.
  • Environmental. In some cases, people are forced to immigrate because of environmental issues, such as natural disasters that damage their homes or because changes in conditions or climates make the area they previously lived in uninhabitable.
  • Social. Occasionally, people immigrate because they want to be with their family members or be near to their friends.
  • Political. Sometimes, people need to flee their home countries because of political upheaval or persecution. For example, people who follow a particular religion may need to seek asylum in the UK if a different, less tolerant political party comes into power in their country.

Economic reasons, specifically work, is the primary reason why many people make a move to the UK, according to Full Fact. In 2016, around 226,000 immigrants to the UK came there for a job, while considerably smaller numbers made a move to the UK for school or to join their family members.

How Do People in the UK Feel About Immigration?

Immigration is often pointed to as one of the primary reasons why a small majority of British citizens decided to vote to leave the European Union in 2016. It appears that there are more people in the UK are against immigration than there those who are for it.

According to the Migration Observatory, more than three-quarters of the British public were in favor of reducing immigration levels by a little or a lot in 2013. More than half of the public was in favor of reducing the level of immigration by a lot.

The Migration Observatory notes that this attitude isn’t a new one among the British public. The observatory started asking the population what they felt about immigration back in the 1960s. It received similar responses then as it did in modern day: That the level of immigration into the UK was too high.

Although it might seem that the vast majority of British residents are anti-immigration, it’s worth noting that they have different sentiments on the issue when it comes to different types of immigrants.

The public in the UK is largely in favor of having more skilled workers, such as doctors and others in the medical profession, move to the country. People also have a favorable view of students who travel to the UK for school.

Immigrants who come to the UK to join a spouse or other relative and immigrants who move for low-skilled or unskilled labor are seen in the most negative light. The majority of the British public views low or unskilled laborers and spouses as being high cost and low overall benefit to the country.

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