Every region of the UK will become more ethnically diverse and see more migration in the coming decades. Record migration and higher birth rates among ethnic minority groups mean that this trend towards greater diversity will happen more rapidly than ever before.

History tells us that this transition can challenge the resilience of communities. It can test local institutions and services, and cause anxiety among settled residents. This is understandable. It takes time for migrants to find their feet, for settled residents to adapt to changes around them, and for services and institutions to become more inclusive and to adapt their practices.

This process of adaptation has happened successfully in many communities across the UK. The evidence that British attitudes towards diversity have become more positive and that indicators of social cohesion have remained stable overall are testament to this. The research conducted for this report in areas that have a higher rate of migration shows that diversity and migration are effectively ‘normalised’ in time. In more highly diverse areas, they are part of an everyday, accepted reality. In these areas most residents, migrant and settled, come to recognise diversity as a distinctive and valued asset in their communities.

However, migration and diversity by themselves do not represent the whole of the challenge. Recent trends driving greater transience in migration are placing new strains on communities. Transience is caused by a combination of factors: technology which makes it easier (and cheaper) for migrants to stay connected with ‘home’, trends in the labour market which make jobs less secure, and freedom of movement within the EU.

Policy decisions that explicitly set out to ensure that ‘coming to the UK does not mean settling in the UK’ are counterproductive and shortsighted because they inhibit integration. They prevent migrants from forming relationships, make it harder for migrants to thrive in our labour market and make an active contribution to our economy, and create a considerable cost for public services. Migrant children are particularly affected, as delaying their entrance to the UK education system stymies their chances of thriving academically.

We propose a series of measures aimed at central government, local authorities and other important non-state bodies (particularly universities) to alleviate local pressures caused by migration and ethnic diversity and to reduce transience, including a four-step action plan for local authorities to ensure that they reap the benefits of a more diverse future. We argue for greater focus on areas that have recently undergone rapid demographic change, particularly those that are characterised by a history of low-level migration and high levels of transience or ‘churn’. Our findings, backed by electoral results, show that these areas are particularly vulnerable to heightened anti-immigration sentiments and social tensions, and low levels of integration.

Objective 1: ensure that immigration rules do not drive up transience and inhibit integration

The government should design its migration rules to encourage greater settlement and discourage transience, in order to promote the integration of migrants, alleviate the pressures on social cohesion that derive from population churn, and ease pressures on public services.

The government should review the current rules around post-study work and extend the routes available to graduates to make the transition into work after completing their education in the UK. Universities should also play an active role by helping to support international students with applications and processes related to post-study visas and by encouraging them to stay in the local area after completing their studies, for example, by setting up programmes that match international students with sectors of the local economy affected by skills shortages. At the same time, universities should ensure that investments to local campuses and facilities which are made chiefly to attract international students also benefit the wider community, by providing access to sports and cultural facilities, including local residents in cultural activities, and encouraging international students to engage with the local area.

The government should set out to gauge how current family migration policies and citizenship policies are affecting long-term integration outcomes. Recent falls in the number of migrants seeking naturalisation and being reunited with their families may be ‘good news’ in terms of helping to meet net migration targets, but they are likely to have a negative impact on long-term integration, particularly for children. In particular, the government should actively review income requirements for family reunion to ensure that they are proportionate.

The UK has one of the strictest citizenship regimes in the developed world. The tightening of the citizenship process has had a marked impact on naturalisation rates, which dropped by 40 per cent in 2014 from a year earlier. To promote naturalisation, EU and non-EU migrants should be auto-enrolled on a citizenship route (on an opt-out basis) after five years as a resident in the UK. Local authorities should support this locally by holding and widely advertising open, public citizenship ceremonies as community events.

Objective 2: create the conditions for better local policy

The government should prioritise areas that are making the transition towards greater ethnic diversity to foster greater community resilience. This includes a far more responsive system for managing data collection and funding mechanisms that allow areas to respond effectively to the pressures produced by demographic change.

A nationally coordinated, locally delivered registration scheme for all residents, along the lines of the German model, would be an invaluable resource for local authorities that would enable local areas to track trends and pre-empt challenges, as well as prepare local services to cater to migrants’ needs. Local authorities should also put in place systems to pool all registrations to public services, including the NHS, DWP and HMRC, national insurance, the national pupil database, the electoral register and DVLA, among others. Given that these systems are now electronic, this should be cost-effective and achievable.

The government’s Controlling Migration Fund – promised by the Conservative party in their manifesto as a way of addressing pressures on public services and paying for enforcement in local communities – should be launched and should be targetted in particular at ‘transition’ areas which have limited histories of migration but have seen high migration influxes in recent years. Local authorities should use the additional resources from the Controlling Migration Fund to address pressures on frontline public services (particularly in areas struggling to cope with rapid population transitions). If necessary, the funds should be used to enforce housing and labour market rules around identifying irregular migrants, in part in order to address problems of overcrowding and wage undercutting.

Local authorities should be given discretion over how to allocate any additional resources, including the immigration skills charge, which was introduced in the Immigration Bill 2015, and the Controlling Migration Fund. However, greater say over the allocation of these resources should be conditional on the formulation of detailed action plans (as proposed below). More local authorities should make use of currently available EU funds, including from the European Social Fund and the European Integration Fund to fund these plans.

Objective 3: set up action plans for local authorities

Local authorities1 should formulate strategies setting out how they will respond to demographic change, higher migration and greater diversity. These plans should form the basis for allocation of central government resources (including those set out above) and for public consultations with local residents. The plans should include:

  1. Detailed forecasting of migration flows and populations trends (using census and pooled data from other services).
  2. ‘Pressure pre-emption’ – scenarios for key impacts and pressures, particularly on public services and social cohesion.
  3. Plans for local services, including detailed evaluation of the capacity of services to meet greater (and potentially more complex) demands and recommendations for how wider public service reform strategies will tackle the challenges generated by migration.
  4. Measures to engage with the local population, for example, through initiatives such as citizens’ juries to involve local people and key actors, including community groups and faith groups, as well as the general public. These consultations should aim to reassure the public that there are local plans in place to meet pressures, and to involve the public in a wide-ranging dialogue about the implications for the local community and key services.

1 We focus our recommendations on local authorities, rather than regional bodies or more local levels of government (such as parishes) because local authorities are largely responsible for delivering policies aimed at addressing the impacts of migration and are the bodies that will be charged with administering funds awarded via the Controlling Migration Fund.