Briefing paper

Public narratives and attitudes towards refugees and other migrants: UK country profile

Immigration Asylum seekers Public opinion United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has long been a country of immigration, providing refuge and opportunities for refugees and other migrants from all over the world.

This paper presents an overview of the key features of migration and asylum policy in the UK, recent trends in migration patterns, and public perceptions and political narratives on refugees and other migrants.

Key messages:

  • Most Britons consistently overestimate the number of migrants in the UK. In 2018, refugees and other migrants accounted for 14% of the current UK population, yet the majority of Britons assume that 27% of the UK population are migrants.
  • The UK is among the EU countries with the most positive attitudes towards immigration, but Britons hold the most negative attitudes towards refugee assistance. While most Britons favour a reduction in immigration, since the EU referendum in 2016 immigration has ranked as a less important issue for the public.
  • Public narratives on refugees and other migrants are polarised; between a ‘threat narrative’ to culture, wealth and security, and a ‘positive narrative’ emphasising the potential benefits of immigration to culture, the economy and society.
  • The UK will change its immigration policies after it leaves the EU, with the end of free movement and existing EU citizens living in the UK required to apply for settled status.
  • Businesses could do more to engage with immigration and highlight the shared benefits of labour mobility for host communities and migrants alike. Migrants have a positive effect on both businesses and the wider economy, with a 1% increase in the migrant share of the population creating a 2% increase in income per head.
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