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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Lift restrictions on migrants’ rights to help limit the spread of Covid-19, says IPPR

New IPPR analysis reveals migrants are more vulnerable to economic and health fallout of the virus outbreak

Migrants are more likely to be self-employed, live in private rented accommodation and to work in sectors that are most affected by the coronavirus, according to new analysis published today.

Yet despite being at higher risk of financial difficulties, many migrants – including some working in key roles in food production, health and social care - have a more limited social safety net, warns IPPR. Lifting these restrictions would safeguard against destitution and limit the spread of the virus, the think tank argues. But if action is not taken then migrants will be forced to choose between maintaining their livelihoods and protecting their own health and that of others.

The analysis also finds that migrants are making a particularly significant contribution to the battle against the virus. Around 850,000 migrants are employed in health and social work – around one in five of the total workforce. Migrants make up more than 40 per cent of workers in food manufacturing.

IPPR’s analysis of the Labour Force Survey revealed:

  • EMPLOYMENT - Migrant workers are more likely to be self-employed and less likely to be members of trades unions. Some 17 per cent of migrant workers across the UK are self-employed, compared to 14 per cent of UK-born workers. Unlike employees, who have been guaranteed 80 per cent of their wages, the self-employed have so far been offered only limited support from government.
  • RENTED ACCOMODATION - Migrants are less likely to own their own homes and more likely to live in private rented accommodation; 54 per cent of migrants rent their property, compared to just 29 per cent of the UK-born population. So far renters have been offered few reassurances from government compared to homeowners.
  • AFFECTED SECTOR - Migrant workers are particularly likely to work in accommodation and food services, among the most exposed sectors in the current emergency. Around 9 per cent of EU workers and 7 per cent of non-EU workers are employed in accommodation and food services, compared to 5 per cent of UK workers.

The analysis reveals migrants – both from the EU and non-EU born – are at particular risk from the economic fallout of the coronavirus. The risks for migrants are particularly important because many already face significant barriers to accessing government support, according to IPPR. For instance:

  • Non-EU migrants who are in the UK on spousal or student visas cannot access social security support from the government due to ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ stipulations in their visas.
  • Many EU migrants must go through a complex Habitual Residency Test to gain access to benefits such as Universal Credit.

For such people, the coronavirus crisis could lead to severe hardship and destitution without any social safety net, warns IPPR. To mitigate these risks, the think tank proposes three key changes:

  • Apply all new measures designed to support UK workers equally to EU and non-EU migrant workers.
  • Suspend ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ visa conditions so that all migrants living in the UK can access benefits and public services.
  • Drop the Habitual Residence Test so that EU migrants do not need to prove their ‘right to reside’ in order to access benefits such as Universal Credit. 

Marley Morris, IPPR Associate Director for Immigration, Trade and EU Relations, said:

“Migrants are being forced to choose between maintaining their livelihoods and protecting their health and the health of others.

“Migrants are especially vulnerable to the economic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak – they are more likely to be self-employed, more likely to live in rented and overcrowded accommodation, and more likely to work in affected sectors such as hospitality.

“Yet many migrants face strict barriers to accessing benefits and public services. To safeguard their welfare and protect the health of everyone who lives in the United Kingdom, these restrictions must now be suspending for the duration of the crisis.”



David Wastell, Head of News and Communications: [email protected]

Robin Harvey, Digital and Media Officer:  [email protected]

Marley Morris is available for print and broadcast interview via Skype


  1. The IPPR analysis, Migrant Workers and Coronavirus: risks and responses by Marley Morris is available to view here:
  2. Graph: Renting by country of birth

  1. This analysis uses the latest round of the Labour Force Survey (October-December 2019). Analysis of the labour market and housing status of migrant workers is based on country of birth rather than nationality.
  2. IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.