New data: changing opinions toward immigration in the UK

New data: changing opinions toward immigration in the UK  

An open passport showing stamps from various countries

Research co-authored by the Department's Dr Lindsay Richards has shown that public opinion towards immigration is highly divided in the UK.

The briefing for Oxford University's Migration Observatory, based at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, showed that as of April 2023, 52% of people thought that immigration numbers should be reduced.

Survey results show public opinion is split, with 33% of participants responding that immigration was 'bad' or 'very bad', compared to 31% who thought immigration was 'good' or 'very good'.

Figure 1 from the Briefing

Although concern about immigration had declined following the 2016 Brexit Referendum, data now suggests that opposition to immigration is increasing once again.

Between 2016 and 2019, the number of people declaring immigration to be one of the most important issues facing the nation dropped from 48% to 20%. By April 2020, just 5% of survey participants were concerned about immigration, and concern about the pandemic displaced all other issues in 2020-21. However, data from June 2023 shows that 21% of people now feel immigration is a major issue facing the country.

However, attitudes to immigration in the UK are still more positive than in many other European countries. Research shows that while 17% of Brits thought that immigration made a country 'a worse place to live', this figure is higher in Belgium at 21%, 27% in France, 49% in Hungary and 52% in the Czech Republic.

Figure 4 from the Briefing


In Britain, younger people, and people with university degrees, tended to express more positive attitudes to immigration. Just 21% of people aged 18-24 considered immigration to be 'bad' or 'very bad', compared to 40% of those aged 45-54.

The data was more striking when it came to level of education, with 50% of university-educated participants considering immigration to be a good thing, compared to 22% of those without a university degree.

Figure 6 from the Briefing

British people also make clear distinctions between types of migrant, with the highly skilled preferred to unskilled overall, and the majority of survey participants in favour of making immigration easier for healthcare workers. The report notes:

When questioned about the criteria for incoming migrants, skills are considered more important than other factors such as race/ethnicity and religion.

The data used within the briefing came from polls and surveys of adults in the UK. To find out more, read the full briefing here.


Original Publication

Richards, L., Fernández-Reino, M. & Blinder, S. (2023) UK Public Opinion toward Immigration: Overall Attitudes and Level of Concern. Migration Observatory briefing, COMPAS, University of Oxford