You are here Press Press releases Half of migrants from new EU countries have now left UK

Half of migrants from new EU countries have now left UK

integration, migration

Published date:  30 Apr 2008

About half of the people who moved to Britain from the countries that joined the European Union on 1 May 2004 have already left the UK, according to a major report published today by the ippr.

About half of the people who moved to Britain from the countries that joined the European Union on 1 May 2004 have already left the UK, according to a major report published today by the ippr.

Numbers of people arriving from countries such as Poland are falling, and greater numbers than before are leaving, says the report – released today to mark the fourth anniversary of the EU enlargement in 2004.

ippr estimates that since 2004 just over 1 million migrant workers have come to Britain from the eight Central and Eastern European countries that joined the EU at that time.

Polish nationals, by far the biggest nationality within this group, are now the single largest foreign national group living in the UK – up from 13th largest in early 2004.

But ippr believes that around half of these migrant workers have returned home already - and that many more will follow suit.

The vast majority of Polish migrants come to the UK for economic reasons, but leave because they miss home or want to be with their friends and family. Seventy per cent of Poles who have returned home had found the UK better or the same as they had expected, yet two-thirds thought they had made the right decision to return home.

ippr estimates that about 665,000 people from post-enlargement countries currently live in Britain. This is a rise of about 550,000 since early 2004.

The employment rate among nationals of the new EU member states is 84 per cent – the highest of all immigrant groups and nine per cent higher than the UK-born average. Very few claim state benefits – only 2.4 per cent of those registering for National Insurance numbers since 2004 did so to claim benefits. They work on average 46 hours per week - four hours longer per week than UK-born workers.

The influx has had a significant impact on some areas of business. In December 2003, about 40,000 passengers flew between British and Polish airports. By December 2007, that number had risen to almost 385,000. Before 2004, Polish beers were not widely available in the UK. Now, some 44 million pints of Poland’s leading brands - Lech and Tyskie – are sold here annually.

In contrast to other groups of people migrating to Britain in the past, many come to the UK on a temporary or seasonal basis, and regularly visit home while living here.

The distribution of post-enlargement migrants around the UK differs significantly from that of other immigrant groups. Workers from the eight countries that joined the EU in 2004 are registered in every local authority in the UK.

ippr believes fewer people from the new EU member states will come to the UK in the coming months and years, and more of those currently here will return home.

A number of factors are behind this:

  • Economic development in the new EU countries – economic conditions in post-enlargement countries are set to improve in relation to the UK;
  • Diversion to other EU member states as they loosen their immigration restrictions;
  • Demographic patterns - falling birth rates in post-enlargement countries in the 1980s means there is a shrinking of the pool of likely migrants in the new EU countries;
  • Devaluation of the Pound Sterling – by about a quarter against the Polish Zloty since early 2004 – will narrow the gap between earnings in Britain and Poland. 

Those migrants that remain in the long term are likely to be the best qualified and most aspirational.

Dr Danny Sriskandarajah, head of migration research at the ippr and report co-author, said:

“Migration from the new EU member states has happened on a staggering scale but seems to have been largely positive for all concerned. Our findings challenge the widely-held assumptions that most of those who have arrived are still here, that more will come and most will stay permanently. It is a question of when, not if the Great East European migration slows. With fewer migrants in and more migrants out, the UK seems to be experiencing turnstiles, not floodgates.

“Our research shows that those who are likely to stay in the UK will move up the career ladder. As they find their feet and improve their English, more Poles will want to pursue their professions than pluck poultry in the future.”

Notes to Editors

Floodgates or turnstiles? Post EU-Enlargement migration flows to (and from) the EU, by Naomi Pollard, Maria Latorre and Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah is published on 30 April and is available to download. 

Please visit to view interactive graphics and images from the report.

Today’s report is the result of combined analysis of a range of data sources:

  • Quantitative analysis of existing survey and administrative data: Worker Registration Scheme (WRS) data, National Insurance Number data, the International Passenger Survey and the Labour Force Survey.
  • A specially commissioned survey of Polish migrants to the UK who have now returned to Poland. ippr and the Institute of Public Affairs, Warsaw commissioned the research agency Millward Brown SMG/KRC to undertake a survey of Poles living in Poland who had lived in the UK for at least three months since 1998. Interviewers conducted 370 face-to-face interviews between 28 February and 12 March 2008 across Poland.
  • Qualitative interviews with Polish migrants living in London conducted in November 2007.

We use our survey findings to estimate the likely extent to which WRS registrations underestimate the number of A8 migrant workers who have come to the UK because some, such as the self-employed, are not required to register, and others, who are required to register, fail to do so. Based on comparisons of this figure for gross arrivals since 2004 with Labour Force Survey (LFS) data, we estimate the number that are likely to have arrived in and left the UK between May 2004 and December 2007. These estimations are given in ballpark form, and are based on the following assumptions: 

  • That the profile and migratory behaviour of A8 migrants as a whole is not significantly different from that of Polish migrants
  • That the proportion of Polish migrants not registered on the WRS is similar to the proportion of A8 migrants not registered on the WRS
  • That although the LFS has a number of limitations as a tool for estimating numbers of migrants in the UK, the figures discussed are sufficiently large to be used as the basis of ballpark estimations.

ippr’s estimates of the current stock of A8 migrants broken down by local authority is available on request.


Gill Amas, Senior Press Officer ippr, 020 7339 0007 / 07753 719 289 /