EU Referendum

UK and the EU: Immigration

Stats and facts

  • Immigration is one of the most important and emotive issues for voters in the referendum. Each migrant has an effect on the economy, growth, wealth, public spending on services and, the hardest to measure, the type of society we live in.
  • There are three million EU nationals living in the UK (excluding Britons). Two thirds of them have arrived since 1993 - with huge movements of workers from Eastern European member states after 2004. Two-thirds of EU nationals are working.
  • More than a quarter of million EU citizens came to the UK in the year to September 2015.
  • Nine of the 28 member states have higher proportions of foreign EU citizens than the UK.

What does the EU do?

Free movement of EU citizens - the right to move from nation to another - is a fundamental and "non-negotiable" part of membership backed up by law.

The borderless Schengen zone means people and goods can move freely across the EU's internal borders on the Continent without showing a passport.,

The European Commission in Brussels is trying to solve the migration crisis in the Mediterranean.

Under the latest plan, all migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey will be returned and for each Syrian sent back, a Syrian in Turkey will be resettled in the EU.

The EU and immigration

3 million

EU citizens live in the UK

  • 257,000 arrived in the year to Sept 2015

  • 62% had a definite job to come to before they moved to the UK

  • Free Movement is a cornerstone of EU membership


...and what doesn't it do?

The EU has no say over who migrates into a particular member state from another part of the world.

International law on refugees, and a nation's obligations towards them, is nothing to do with Brussels.

While the EU wants to co-ordinate asylum policy, it has struggled to solve the crisis across the continent. The EU can't force member states to take quotas of refugees.

Brussels has nothing to do with the deals between the UK, France and Belgium that have seen our cross-channel border controls moved to the Continent.

Does the UK have any opt-outs?

The UK is not part of the Schengen open borders system.

Prime Minister David Cameron says his summit deal includes two measures that will affect migration:

The amount of child benefit EU workers can send to their home countries will be restricted

The UK can pull an emergency "brake" to cut in-work benefits from EU migrants for up to four years

The argument for leaving the EU

The emergency brake won't cut EU migration because most EU migrants are young workers not looking for hand-outs. EU free movement discriminates against highly-skilled people from the rest of the world.

If the UK is in the EU, then it is in the free market - and that means Britain can't control EU immigration.

The argument for staying in the EU

Freedom of movement benefits the British economy. There's no more red tape preventing employers getting cheap or appropriately skilled labour quickly.

This has made the UK more competitive at home and globally. The UK could not realistically pull up the drawbridge when its prosperity relies on creating global wealth-generating networks.

Read more:

All you need to know about the UK's EU referendum

Full referendum coverage