Migrants1 are a significant part of the UK workforce: doctors in Accident and Emergency units, colleagues in offices, the staff serving food in restaurants, workers building roads, someone’s boss, someone’s team leader. 

Of the estimated 30.3 million people in employment in the UK, 11%, approximately 3.4 million, are migrants.


EU14: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden

EU8: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia

EU2: Bulgaria, Romania2


Any changes to the levels of migrant workers in the UK labour force will be closely scrutinised and debated in the coming months, particularly in the context of the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

In 2016, which covers 6 months of post-referendum data, there was a statistically significant increase in the departure of European Union citizens from the UK - up 31,000 on 2015 to 117,000.

As attention turns to the the terms of the UK's departure from the EU, the status of EU migrants (referred to here as EU14, EU8 and EU2) living and working here today, and our future relationship with migrant labour more generally, remains in focus, with  concerns raised in certain industry sectors about the impact any shortages of labour could have on businesses.

Test your knowledge, and explore the key data

EU migrants account for 2.2 million of the UK workforce, while non-EU for 1.2 million.

But how well do you understand some of the other key facts of migrant labour from the EU and beyond in the UK?  

When looking at the percentage breakdowns within each nationality group, choose which statement is correct...3

Compared with EU14 citizens working in the UK, British nationals resident in the UK are...

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Migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, known as the EU2 countries, make up  281,000 of the UK's workforce. But what are the key differences in their work characteristics compared with UK nationals?

Compared with UK nationals working in the UK, Bulgarian and Romanian nationals working in the UK are ...

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Just over 1 million of the UK workforce is from the EU8, which includes Poland and the Czech Republic.

Compared with UK nationals working in the UK, EU8 nationals working in the UK are ...

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Migrants from outside the EU account for 1.2 million of the UK workforce, but how do they compare with UK nationals?

Compared with UK nationals working in the UK, migrants from outside the EU working in the UK are...

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The UK resident and working population

Migration has had an undeniable impact on the UK population over the last half century and beyond, and arguably that effect has been greater in the last 25 years as the numbers of people from the EU and outside the EU moving to the UK has grown4.

In the last 5 years (2011 to 2016) while the UK resident population has grown from 62.5 million to 64.7 million, the proportions of UK residents by nationality has largely remained the same.

EU14 and EU8 countries each account for 2 in every 100 people in the UK population, EU2 countries 1 in 100 people and the rest of the world account for 4 in 100 people. UK nationals make up the rest,  91 out of every 100 people in the population.

When it comes to employment, nationals from EU8 and EU2 countries are the most likely of any nationality in the UK to be in work (83% of the migrant population from those groups).

Non-EU nationals had the lowest proportion of people in employment (62%), reflecting the fact that many non-EU nationals are here to study. At slightly more than 1 in 10, 11% of non-EU nationals were estimated to be inactive and state study as the reason for inactivity, the highest proportion compared with other nationalities.

Approximately three-quarters of nationals from the UK and EU14 countries were in employment (74% and 76% respectively).

Explore key migrant employment facts 

While there is no such thing as an “average” working person, we’ve pulled out the dominant employment characteristics within each nationality group - EU14, EU8, EU2, non-EU, UK.

A worker from the EU14 is most likely to…

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Future migrant labour from the EU

It’s clear that some industries and occupations are more reliant on migrant labour than others, and the relationship between workers, wages, skills, occupations and nationality is under scrutiny, particularly for workers from EU countries outside the UK as Brexit negotiations start.

That includes the manufacturing industry, which takes 11% of its workforce from the EU, as well as the  transport, construction and the distribution, hotels and restaurant industries, which each take 9% of their workforce from the EU respectively.5

These figures don’t include additional short-term workers, such as seasonal workers, and so the importance of EU labour in these areas may be greater still.

It’s worth noting that nationals from the EU8 and EU2 countries tend to work longer hours for less money (based on median gross hourly pay), and, in common with EU14 nationals, are more likely to be over-qualified for the roles they are doing than UK nationals, yet they are more likely to be in jobs requiring low skills. 

Nationals from EU14 countries tend to be in jobs requiring high skills, and earn more than UK nationals.

The future relationship between the UK and workers from the EU may not be known for some time, but many employers and employees will be following discussions very closely.

Notes and definitions:

Hourly pay

When comparing the average gross hourly pay (the amount of pay received per hour before tax, National Insurance and other deductions) by nationality, the median is chosen as the main measure; that is the data value at which 50% of data values are above it and 50% of data values are below it.

We present the median because the distribution of earnings is not symmetrical, with more people earning lower salaries than higher salaries; this is consistent with other ONS publications, such as the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE), ONS’ preferred measure of earnings.

More information on migration estimates for the UK is available here. Alternatively, if you have questions e-mail migstatsunit@ons.gov.uk

Other Visual.ONS articles:

Commonwealth trade in focus Who does the UK trade with? Understanding the UK economy

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  1. Defined as non-UK nationals

  2. EU14 are countries who were members of the EU prior to 2004: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. EU8 are countries who joined the EU January 2004: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia. EU2 is Bulgaria and Romania, who joined the EU in January 2007.

    Non-EU is all other countries outside of the UK, with the exception of Cyprus, Malta and Croatia, which are known as EU Other, but are not included in this analysis as there are not enough available data to make comparisons.

  3. More likely means a higher percentage of people in one nationality group compared with the percentage of people in the comparison nationality group, while less likely means a lower percentage.

  4. The analysis is largely based on calendar year data from the Annual Population Survey (APS) for 2016 (the latest calendar year available at the time of writing).

    In the APS, a person’s nationality is self-reported and is therefore influenced by how a person perceives their nationality.

    The APS is designed to measure resident population stocks within the UK (the number of people living in the UK on a permanent basis). It was not designed to measure population flows (the number of people entering and leaving the UK) and should not be used as such.

    The APS collects data from individuals in households, but does not include most communal establishments (managed accommodation such as halls of residence, hostels and care homes). This means that students resident in communal establishments will only be included in APS estimates if their parents (resident in a household) are sampled and include the absent student. The APS will include long-term migrants and some short-term migrants. It is unlikely to sample short-term migrants living in the UK for very short periods of time.

    This could have a disproportionate effect on certain categories of overseas nationals than others. For example, students and short-term or seasonal workers from overseas (such as those working in the agricultural industry) may be more likely to stay in communal establishments or be in the UK on a short-term basis and will therefore be excluded from the sample resulting in their under-representation.

    The analysis also draws from data available in the APS 3-year pooled dataset Jan 2013 to Dec 2015 (the most recent available); this dataset provides a larger sample on which to conduct analysis, which allows more detailed analysis to be undertaken. But, as this dataset encompasses three years it is less sensitive to more volatile trends than one year datasets.

  5. All data taken from APS 2016.