Migration Statistics Quarterly Report: May 2019

A summary of the latest official long-term international migration statistics for the UK for the year ending December 2018 published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Data from the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) are also included.

This is the latest release. View previous releases

This is an accredited national statistic.

Contact:
Email Ann Blake

Release date:
24 May 2019

Next release:
22 August 2019

1. Other migration outputs in this release

As part of our ongoing work to improve bulletins, commentary on other international migration outputs released today (24 May 2019) can be found on the following pages:

Caution comparing migration estimates from different survey sources

The latest population of the UK by country of birth and nationality estimates are measured using the Annual Population Survey (APS). The APS is not designed to measure long-term international migration (LTIM) but does give insights into changes in the population. While for overall migration the long-term trends are similar, it has shown different patterns to LTIM for changes in EU and non-EU migration. The most recent figures for overall migration are also further apart than we have seen previously.

As we progress with our recently published workplan, which also considers the Labour Force Survey (LFS), we will make more detailed comparisons between sources, and look at how survey design, sample sizes and response patterns influence the results. We will aim to complete this work as soon as we can so this can help us better understand trends in migration from all sources, feed into our reporting and our transformation programme.

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2. Main points

Long-term international net migration, immigration and emigration figures have remained broadly stable since the end of 2016.

Long-term international net migration data show that migrants continued to add to the UK population as an estimated 258,000 more people moved to the UK with an intention to stay 12 months or more than left in the year ending December 2018. Over the year, 602,000 people moved to the UK (immigration) and 343,000 people left the UK (emigration).

EU long-term immigration has fallen since 2016 and is at its lowest since 2013. Non-EU long-term immigration has gradually increased over the last five years to similar levels seen in 2011.

Since 2016, overall long-term immigration to the UK for work has continued to decrease and looking at all available data sources, this has mainly been due to the fall in EU immigration to the UK for work. For non-EU citizens, since 2015, work-related immigration to the UK has remained broadly stable, however, the number of skilled work visas issued has been increasing.

As seen in all available sources, non-EU student immigration has recently risen, after remaining broadly stable between 2013 and 2017. Most non-EU citizens arriving in the UK to study went to university and the number of sponsored applications for universities in the year ending March 2019 was the highest level on record.

The UK granted asylum, alternative forms of leave, or resettlement to 17,304 people in the year ending March 2019, an increase on the previous year. Grants of protection were at their highest number since 2003.

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Where possible to assess migration trends we use all available data sources and review the longer time series.

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3. Statistician’s comment

“Our analysis of the available data suggests that long-term net migration, immigration and emigration figures have remained broadly stable since the end of 2016.

“Since 2016, the pattern of migration to the UK for work has been changing. Long-term immigration to the UK for work has fallen, mainly driven by the decline in EU arrivals. Despite this, 99,000 EU citizens still came to the UK long-term to work in 2018, a level similar to 2012. We are also seeing the number of skilled work visas for non-EU citizens increasing, although overall non-EU work-related immigration has remained broadly stable.

“Decisions to migrate are complex and a person’s decision to move to or from the UK will be influenced by a range of social and economic factors.”

Jay Lindop, Director of the Centre for International Migration, Office for National Statistics.

Follow ONS Director of the Centre for International Migration @JayLindop_ONS

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4. Migration continues to add to the population of the UK

An estimated 258,000 more people came to the UK with an intention to stay 12 months or more than left in the year ending December 2018 (net migration). Over the year, 602,000 people arrived in the UK (immigration) and 343,000 people left the UK (emigration).

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Long-term international migration data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are largely based on a survey. It is not possible to survey all people coming to and leaving the UK, so these statistics are estimates based on a sample, not precise figures.

Figure 1: Net migration, immigration and emigration figures have continued to remain broadly stable since the end of 2016

Long-Term International Migration, UK, year ending December 2008 to year ending December 2018

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We present all long-term international migration estimates with shading around the line on the charts to represent uncertainty in the estimates due to the number of people surveyed. The line is the most likely value and the values towards the upper and lower band of the shading are possible but less likely. Other sources of uncertainty are not represented.

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5. Overall trend in net migration remains broadly stable

While the overall trend in net migration remains broadly stable, EU net migration has decreased since mid-2016 following a period of increase, and non-EU net migration has gradually been increasing since 2013 (Figure 2). However, both EU and non-EU citizens continue to add to the population, while more British citizens leave long-term than return (Table 1).

Decisions to migrate are complex and a person’s decision to move to or from the UK will always be influenced by a range of social and economic factors.

Figure 2: Non-EU net migration has gradually increased since 2013 and EU net migration has decreased since 2016

Net migration by citizenship, UK, year ending December 2008 to year ending December 2018

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We do not recommend users make comparisons year-on-year and instead look at the broader evidence and longer time series, which allows a better assessment of trends. See Chart 1 TS for trends.

EU immigration has continued to decrease

EU net migration is similar to the level seen in 2012, following a decrease since the year ending September 2016 (Figure 3). This steady fall in EU net migration has been driven by a continuing decrease in EU immigration, a trend seen in all three EU groups (EU2, EU8, EU15). EU long-term immigration has fallen since 2016 and is at its lowest since 2013.

Figure 3: EU immigration was as its lowest level since 2013

EU Long-Term International Migration, UK, year ending December 2008 to year ending December 2018

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Non-EU immigration has remained broadly stable over the last year

Non-EU net migration has gradually increased over the last five years, with 232,000 more non-EU citizens arriving than leaving in the year ending December 2018 (Figure 4), this was similar to levels seen in 2011.

Figure 4: Non-EU immigration has gradually increased over the last five years

Non-EU Long-Term International Migration, UK, year ending December 2008 to year ending December 2018

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6. Work and study remain the most common reasons to come to the UK

Although work remained a common reason to come to the UK, total immigration to the UK for work-related reasons has continued to fall since the year ending September 2016. An estimated 216,000 people came to the UK to work in the year ending December 2018, a level last seen in 2013 (Figure 5).

Immigration to the UK to accompany or join another person has declined since the year ending September 2017 to its lowest level recorded (51,000) in the year ending December 2018.

The overall number of people immigrating to the UK for formal study remained amongst the highest levels seen since 2011.

Figure 5: Total immigration for work continued to decrease whereas coming to the UK to study remained high

Long-term immigration trends by reason for migration, UK, year ending December 2008 to year ending December 2018

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Since 2016, total long-term immigration to the UK for work has continued to decrease

Long-term immigration to the UK for work has continued to decrease since the year ending September 2016, driven mainly by the decline in EU arrivals. Despite this, an estimated 99,000 EU citizens still came to the UK long-term to work in 2018, a level similar to 2012.

This decrease can be accounted for largely by the recent fall in the number of EU citizens arriving with a definite job and the previous decrease in the number of EU citizens looking for work.

To fully understand these trends, we consider all available data sources including data from the Home Office and Department for Work and Pensions, and make our best assessment of the overall patterns in international migration.

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Not all data sources are directly comparable. Users should be aware of these differences before drawing conclusions.

Foreign citizens require a National Insurance number (NINo) to work in the UK and NINo registration data can be used to provide another view of work-related immigration. For EU citizens, International Passenger Survey (IPS) and NINo data continue to follow a similar trend with both sources showing a decrease since 2016 (Figure 6).

Figure 6: EU citizens coming to the UK to work continued to fall

EU work-related long-term immigration trends by data source, UK, year ending December 2008 to year ending December 2018

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Looking at all the available sources, by comparing the IPS with work visas and NINos, we can see that immigration of non-EU citizens for work has remained broadly stable since 2015 (Figure 7). However, different patterns are seen for different groups, with all available data sources showing that there has been an increase in Asian citizens arriving for work since the year ending September 2017. IPS estimates show an increase in Asian citizens arriving with a definite job in the past two years. This pattern is consistent with the most comparable Home Office visa data and NINo registrations.

From the year ending June 2017, there was a small rise in long-term work visas granted, particularly to Indian nationals, and this trend continues for the latest year ending March 2019 data. Also, in the year ending December 2018, NINo registrations to non-EU citizens increased to 213,000, mainly from Indian nationals (49% of this increase).

The latest Home Office visa data show a 15% increase in Skilled (Tier 2) work visas issued, accounting for the majority (59%) of all work visas. There was also an increase in the number of Certificates of Sponsorship used in applications for Tier 2 (Skilled) work in the human health and social work sector (up 62% in the year ending March 2019), resulting from the removal of highly-skilled doctors and nurses from the Tier 2 visa cap.

Figure 7: Non-EU citizens coming to the UK to work remained stable in recent years

Non-EU work-related long-term immigration trends by data source, UK, year ending December 2008 to year ending December 2018

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EU and non-EU nationals working in the UK labour market

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also produces estimates of the labour market activity of the resident population in the UK by nationality and country of birth.

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The number of migrants working in the UK is not a measure of how many people migrate to work. The best measure of total migration flows into and out of the UK is the Long-Term International Migration (LTIM) estimates.

For the period January to March 2019, the latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) show that there were an estimated 2.38 million EU nationals working in the UK and an estimated 1.32 million non-EU nationals working in the UK.

The most recent labour market statistics show that there was a small increase in the number of EU citizens and non-EU citizens working in the UK compared with the previous year.

Looking over the longer time series, the number of EU nationals working in the UK has been increasing and despite a recent fall is back to the level seen in mid-2017. The number of non-EU nationals has remained broadly stable over the last few years.

It is too early to tell whether the recent increases are emerging patterns so we will continue to monitor the long-term trend.

This can be compared with long-term immigration in the IPS where we are continuing to see both EU and non-EU citizens arrive in the UK for work-related reasons.

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A number of differences have been identified when making comparisons between migration data from the Annual Population Survey (APS), Labour Force Survey (LFS) and International Passenger Survey (IPS). We have recently published a workplan, which once complete will enable us to better understand the reasons for those differences in the survey sources in the wider context of our migration statistics transformation work.

Non-EU student immigration has risen in the past year after remaining broadly stable since 2013

Our assessment based on reviewing data from all available sources is that non-EU student immigration has recently risen, after remaining broadly stable between 2013 and 2017 (Figure 8).

In the year ending December 2018, an estimated 211,000 people arrived in the UK long-term for formal study, remaining amongst the highest levels recorded since 2011.

The most comparable Home Office visa data for the year ending December 2018 showed that the number of Tier 4 (Sponsored Study) visas issued for 12 months or more was also at the highest level since the year ending December 2011. This trend continues in the latest visa data (for year ending March 2019) and was driven by visas issued to Chinese and Indian nationals, which together accounted for half (41% and 9% respectively) of all Tier 4 visas issued.

Most non-EU nationals arriving in the UK to study went to university. In the year ending March 2019, there was an increase (10%) in the number of sponsored applications for higher education institutions, to 196,350; the highest level on record. Again, this increase was driven by applications from Chinese and Indian nationals.

Figure 8: Non-EU student immigration has recently risen after remaining broadly stable from 2013 to 2017

Non-EU long-term student immigration trends by data source, UK, year ending December 2008 to year ending December 2018

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Not all data sources are directly comparable. Users should be aware of these differences before drawing conclusions.

The UK granted asylum, alternative forms of leave¹, or resettlement to 17,304 people in the year ending March 2019, an increase on the previous year

This was up 22% on the previous year and the highest number of grants of protection in a single year since the year ending September 2003.

Home Office data show that the total number of people granted protection comprised:

  • 9,191 grants of asylum (up 34%); there were notable changes in grants to Turkish (up 446), Afghan (up 299), Iranian (up 294), Eritrea (up 268), Sudanese (up 193) and Syrian (down 145) nationals

  • 2,319 grants of an alternative form of leave¹ (up 50%), driven mainly by an increase of 663 grants of humanitarian protection, particularly to Libyan nationals (up 439)

  • 5,794 people were provided protection under resettlement schemes (similar to the previous year)

Notes for: Work and Study remain the most common reasons to come to the UK

  1. Alternative forms of leave include humanitarian protection, discretionary leave as well as other types of leave.
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7. Migration data

The Office for National Statistics long-term international migration statistics are estimated based on two main sources:

  • the International Passenger Survey (IPS), which captures migration intentions

  • Long-Term International Migration (LTIM) estimates, which are based on IPS data, but with adjustments made for migrants not included in the survey, such as asylum seekers

Publications released on the same day that are related to the Migration Statistics Quarterly Report (MSQR) include:

Provisional Long-Term International Migration estimates
Dataset | Released 24 May 2019
Estimates with confidence intervals for the year ending December 2018 are available. These include data on:

  • immigration, emigration and net migration by citizenship over time in Table 1 and Chart 1TS

  • immigration and emigration by reason for migration in Table 2 and Charts 2a and 2b

  • immigration and emigration by reason for migration and citizenship in Table 3 and Charts 3a and 3b

Home Office Immigration Statistics release
Release | Released 24 May 2019
Includes both short-term and long-term visas (including dependants) for non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals and data are available for the year ending March 2019. The release includes more detailed statistics by visa category (including work, study and family), citizenship and industry sector. The release also includes data on citizenship, asylum and resettlement, detention and returns.

Home Office Migrant journey: 2018 report
Release | Released 24 May 2019
Explore changes in migrants’ visa and leave status within the UK’s immigration system. Formerly known as ‘Statistics on changes in migrants’ visa and leave status’.

National Insurance number allocations to adult overseas nationals
Release | Released 24 May 2019
Includes both short-term and long-term migrants for the year ending March 2019. The summary tables provide more detail by nationality and location of registrations in the UK.

International Passenger Survey, estimates by individual quarter
Dataset | Released 24 May 2019
Estimates of international migration, by individual quarter, up to Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018. These quarterly estimates can be derived from the IPS but are not fully processed survey data and as such are not official statistics – for more information regarding this decision see International Migration – terms, definitions and frequently asked questions (Section 10).

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It is important to note that estimates by quarter are not as robust as our estimates for rolling years and are not official statistics. This is due to the small sample sizes involved and because the complete methodology applied to our estimates for full years cannot be applied to our estimates for individual quarters.

Due to the seasonal nature of international migration and the small sample sizes involved for individual quarter data, users should be cautious with any interpretation of individual quarter estimates, especially where the corresponding confidence interval is large in comparison with the estimate.

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Where these data are used we advise users to only compare the individual quarter data with the same quarter in the previous years. However, given the limitations with quality, methodology and coverage we recommend using the estimates for rolling years over the individual quarter data.

Differences between the data sources are described in Comparing sources of international migration statistics.

Analysis of travel and tourism information collected in the International Passenger Survey (IPS) was published on 24 May 2019. Specifically annual estimates of travel and tourism visits to the UK and quarterly data on travel to and from the UK.

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8. Glossary

Long-term international migrant

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) migration statistics use the UN recommended definition of a long-term international migrant: “A person who moves to a country other than that of his or her usual residence for a period of at least a year (12 months), so that the country of destination effectively becomes his or her new country of usual residence.”

EU citizenship groups

EU estimates exclude British citizens. Citizens of countries who were EU members prior to 2004, for example, France, Germany and Spain, are termed the EU15; Central and Eastern European countries who joined the EU in 2004, for example, Poland, are the EU8; EU2 comprises Bulgaria and Romania, who became EU members in 2007.

Work-related migration

In the International Passenger Survey “Work-related” migration includes those people who migrate with a “Definite job” to go to already and those who migrate “Looking for work”.

Full details of ONS terms and definitions can be found in the International Migration – terms, definitions and frequently asked questions.

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9. Measuring these data

The sources of data included in this release are not directly comparable but taken together provide a better indication of trends than any single source alone. This approach is explained in the Report on international migration data sources: July 2018, which sets out our latest understanding of the quality of International Passenger Survey (IPS) migration estimates.

The Government Statistical Service Migration Statistics Transformation Programme is working towards putting administrative data at the core of international migration statistics. In January 2019, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published a research engagement report summarising findings from the feasibility research on using linked administrative data to provide international migration flows and asked for feedback on user needs across the international migration evidence base.

Alongside this release we have published a blog providing an overview of today’s (24 May 2019) international migration statistics release.

Office for National Statistics data

The ONS publish International Passenger Survey (IPS) and Long-Term International Migration (LTIM) estimates.

The Migration statistics first time user guide describe these data and the Long-Term International Migration (LTIM) estimates methodology details the method used to calculate LTIM.

We have made a revision to the ONS estimate for non-EU student immigration for the year ending September 2016 and published a guidance note.

All of the LTIM and IPS estimate changes discussed in the release are statistically significant at the 95% confidence level unless specifically stated otherwise.

For more detailed information on our migration statistics methodology please see International migration methodology.

The ONS produce estimates of the labour market activity of the resident population in the UK by nationality and country of birth from the Labour Force Survey. Statistical significance testing is not available for the labour market EU and non-EU breakdowns.

International Passenger Survey – imbalance and discontinuity work:

The International Passenger Survey (IPS) has recently transferred outputs from data collected on paper forms to an improved method using tablet computers. Tablet data collection was phased in gradually from September 2017 to April 2018. More background information about the rollout is available.

The new tablets enable us to improve the quality of the IPS data collected, so discontinuities (that is, step changes in the time series) arising from the introduction of tablet data collection in the IPS are possible. We have worked with academic experts and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Methodology team to produce a method for detecting any such discontinuities.

We have continued to monitor the results as more data have become available. Further analysis using a longer series of data is required to determine whether there are any discontinuities, so some caution is still advised in the interpretation of data in this release.

Further methodological changes are planned to the estimates on international visitors in the IPS. These are weighting adjustments to address concerns about the imbalance (that is, large differences in numbers) in the IPS between the estimates of numbers of visitors arriving and departing for some nationalities. The new method has been developed in consultation with users and methodological experts. We plan to implement the new method in October 2019, when the results for the second quarter of 2019 are published. A revised back series will also be published at this time. More information about the planned changes will be published as soon as possible.

The changes in data collection methods and planned methodological changes were described in the Travel trends 2017: recent data collection changes and planned methodological changes article, in July 2018.

Please note that while the imbalance work is unlikely to affect long-term migrants in the IPS, we have committed to exploring whether the survey processes that cause the imbalance in international visitor estimates also impact on long-term migration further, as part of ONS Migration Statistics’ workplan to understand different migration data sources.

Home Office data

Home Office immigration statistics provide the numbers of people who are covered by the UK’s immigration control and related processes, based on a range of administrative and other data sources. Where direct comparisons are made to the IPS data, Home Office visa data are for main applicants only and for long-term visas (one year or more). The User Guide to Home Office Immigration Statistics provides more details.

Department for Work and Pensions data

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) National Insurance number (NINo) statistics count the volume of NINos registered to adult non-UK nationals. Further information including detail on data sources, uses and limitations of the series is provided in the background information.

Differences between the data sources are described in Comparing sources of international migration statistics.

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10. Strengths and limitations of the ONS international migration data

The International Passenger Survey (IPS) and the Long-Term International Migration (LTIM) estimates are currently the only sources of data to provide both long-term immigration and emigration and so net migration estimates for the UK.

The IPS is a sample survey and as such provides estimates. When the estimates are broken down beyond the headline figures they are subject to greater levels of uncertainty.

To ensure confidence in our estimates we review all available data sources to make the best assessment of migration in the UK. For example, Home Office administrative data on non-EU citizens travelling is more detailed and do not have the known possible variability present in estimates made from sample surveys.

The accuracy of long-term migration estimates

Surveys gather information from a sample of people from a population. It is not possible to ask every person travelling in and out of the country to fill out a survey. This means we have to estimate total changes, which can be affected by the group of people we sample. We use confidence intervals to measure uncertainty around the estimate. Users are advised to be cautious when making inferences from estimates with relatively large confidence intervals.

The Migration statistics first time user guide summarises the reliability of the long-term international migration estimates. For further information on confidence intervals, the accuracy of these statistics, comparing different data sources and the difference between provisional and final figures, please see International migration methodology.

A number of differences have been identified when making comparisons between migration data from the Annual Population Survey (APS), Labour Force Survey (LFS) and International Passenger Survey (IPS). We have recently published a workplan, which once complete will enable us to better understand the reasons for those differences in the survey sources in the wider context of our migration statistics transformation work. An update on this work will be published in June.

Uncertainty in ONS migration statistics

In this release we present the LTIM and IPS data with shading around the line on the charts to represent the uncertainty of the estimates due to the number of people surveyed, based on 30%, 60% and 95% confidence intervals. The line on the chart is the most likely value and the values towards the upper and lower band of the shading are possible but less likely.

Other sources of uncertainty are not represented, a few examples of this include: limitations of the survey methodology, potential misunderstandings of the questions, accuracy of interviewees’ answers and uncertainties caused by combining data from different sources.

Revisions to the ONS migration estimates

Revisions to net migration estimates in light of the 2011 Census were made in April 2014. The report, a summary and guidance (PDF, 56KB) on how to use these revised figures are available.

Revisions to LTIM and IPS estimates were made in February 2019. Because of the unusual pattern in student migration seen between the year ending September 2016 and the year ending September 2017 we produced an illustrative revised trend for the IPS non-EU student immigration estimate in July 2018.

We made a revision to the IPS and LTIM estimate for non-EU formal study immigration for the year ending September 2016, which forms part of the subsequent estimates for three rolling years. A guidance note has been published to explain the revision. The revision affects estimates for the years ending September 2016, December 2016, March 2017 and June 2017. As non-EU student immigration feeds into overall immigration and net migration estimates, we have also produced revised estimates for these figures.

Revised estimates are highlighted in the accompanying dataset and presented without confidence intervals as it is not possible to quantify the uncertainty associated with them. The original estimates are available in earlier publications of the accompanying dataset.

Quality and methodology

The Long-Term International Migration Quality and Methodology Information report contains important information on:

  • the strengths and limitations of the data and how it compares with related data

  • uses and users of the data

  • how the output was created

  • the quality of the output including the accuracy of the data

For more detailed information on our migration statistics methodology please see International migration methodology.

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11. More about migration

International migration and the education sector – what does the current evidence show?
Article | Released 8 May 2019
An exploration of what the current evidence can tell us about the impact and contribution of international migration on the education sector.

Update on our population and migration statistics transformation journey: a research engagement report
Article | Released on 30 January 2019
An update on our population and migration statistics transformation using administrative data.

Building our understanding of the migration evidence
Bulletin section 9 | Released on 23 August 2018
An update of the Migration Statistics Transformation Programme for August 2018.

Report on international migration data sources: July 2018
Article | Released on 16 July 2018
An update on our migration statistics transformation plans, our recent analysis of Home Office administrative data in collaboration with Home Office experts, and our International Passenger Survey (IPS) data assurance review.

Migration statistics transformation update: May 2018
Article | Released on 24 May 2018
An update of the Migration Statistics Transformation Programme for May 2018.

What's happening with international student migration?
Article | Released on 24 August 2017
An update on our progress towards developing a better understanding on student migration to and from the UK since the April 2017 update.

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12. You may also be interested in

Office for National Statistics international migration articles
All ONS articles relating to international migration.

International migration – table of contents
Dataset | Released on 28 February 2019
Tool to locate the datasets for all ONS international migration outputs.

Nationality at point of National Insurance number registration of DWP working age benefit recipients: data to November 2017
Release | Released 28 February 2019
These statistics provide the number of claimants receiving one or more DWP Working Age (WA) benefits broken down by nationality.

Home Office migration research and analysis
Research and statistics on migration to support Home Office policy development and operational activity.

Home Office developments in migration statistics
Article | Released on 28 February 2019
Recent changes introduced by Home Office statisticians to a wide range of UK migration statistics.

Migration Advisory Committee (MAC)
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is an independent, non-statutory, non-time limited, non-departmental public body that advises the government on migration issues.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Ann Blake
migstatsunit@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1329 444097