Global study shows many around the world uncomfortable with levels of immigration

A major new Ipsos survey across 22 countries worldwide provides an insight into attitudes to immigration and the refugee crisis.

6 in 10 concerned about terrorists pretending to be refugees, and 4 in 10 want to close borders entirely   

A major new Ipsos survey across 22 countries worldwide provides an insight into attitudes to immigration and the refugee crisis.  The survey, among online adults aged under 65 in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Britain, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States finds attitudes to immigration throughout the world are often negative – and a significant minority want to close borders to refugees, with many concerned about terrorists disguising themselves as refugees.  

Overall attitudes to immigration tend to be negative Nearly every country believes immigration has risen over the last five years, and on average half believe there is too much immigration in their country. 

  • Negative attitudes are consistently high in Turkey, Italy, Russia, Belgium and Hungary.  Across all of the countries, on average 78% say immigration to their country has increased over the past five years.  Those in Turkey, Sweden, Germany, and South Africa are particularly likely to think immigration has increased (nine in ten or more say it has). 
  • The biggest rises in perceptions of increased immigration since the question was asked in 2011 have been in Turkey, Sweden, Germany and France.On average, more people say immigration has generally had a negative (45%) rather than positive (20%) effect on their country. Six in ten or more in Turkey, Italy, Russia, Hungary, France and Belgium say immigration has had a negative impact.  At the other end of the spectrum, 48% in Saudi Arabia and 45% in India say immigration has had a positive impact on their country.
  • Half across the 22 countries say there are too many immigrants in their country (49%), and a similar proportion (46%) say immigration is causing their country to change in ways they don’t like.   Concern about both measures is especially high in Turkey, Italy, Russia and Belgium.  The Japanese are least likely to say there are too many immigrants in their country (only 12%), and the Brazilians are least likely to say they are uncomfortable with how immigration is changing their country (23%). 
  • Although in Britain views tend to be more negative than positive, we are actually mid-table on most measures, and there are some more positive views on immigration than in previous years.  Thirty-five percent of Britons think that immigration has been good for the country (up from 28% a year ago, and 19% in 2011), while 49% think there are too many immigrants in the UK, down from 60% a year ago and 71% in 2011.  These positive changes are despite a significant increase in immigration and the recent EU Referendum, where reducing immigration was a key factor behind the vote for “Brexit”.   

People are most concerned about the impact of immigration on public services in their country In most of the countries surveyed, a majority think immigration has placed too much pressure on public services, and people are split on the economic benefits of immigration. 

  • Attitudes tend to be more positive in Saudi Arabia, India, Britain, Canada and Australia, but more negative in Turkey, France, Russia, Hungary and Italy. On average half (50%) think that immigration has placed too much pressure on public services in their country, while just 18% disagree.  Concern is highest in Turkey (72%, up from 45% in 2011), South Africa (62%), the US and France (both 60%). 
  • Since 2011 there has also been a notable rise in concern about pressure on public services in Sweden (up by 15 points to 55%).When it comes to the economy, on average 44% think immigration has made it more difficult for home nationals to get jobs (25% disagree), and only 28% think it has been good for their country’s economy (while 37% disagree). 
  • People in Saudi Arabia, India, Britain, Canada and Australia say immigration has on balance been good for their economy, but the most negative perceptions are again in Turkey, Hungary, Russia, Italy and France.  Views are also split on whether priority should be given to higher-skilled immigrants who can fill shortages in particular professions – on average 40% agree with this, but this rises to over half in Britain, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Australia.
  • On other issues, on average three in ten (29%) say that immigration has made their country a more interesting place to live, but this hides big differences – agreement is highest in Australia, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, Canada, India and the US, but lowest in Russia, Hungary, Japan and Italy. 
  • Education is a key factor in attitudes to immigration in many of the countries; for example, on average 28% of those who are highly educated say it has a positive impact compared with 16% among those with low/medium education. Those who are more educated are also more likely to think immigration is good for the economy (35% say this compared to 28% on average) and are less likely to say there are too many immigrants in their country (45% compared with 55% for those with less education.)
  • Again, British people have become more positive about the impact of immigration over recent years.  Forty-five per cent say immigration has been good the economy, up from 38% a year ago and from 27% in 2011, and 38% say immigration has made it harder for native Britons to get a job, down from 48% a year ago and 62% in 2011.  However, Britain is one of the countries most worried about the pressure placed on public services by immigration, with 59% concerned – although this too is down from 68% a year ago and from 76% in 2011, when Britain was the most worried of all the countries surveyed.
  • Looking forward to Britain’s negotiations with the EU, there is a clear signal on the importance of skills levels in any deals on movement of people: Britons are most likely out of any of the countries included to say that priority should be given to people with high levels of qualifications and skills to fill needs in particular professions (61% compared with average of 40% across all the countries).  

Four in ten want to close borders to refugees, and six in ten think terrorists are pretending to be refugees As the refugee crisis continues, the findings also show that a large minority want to close borders entirely – and there are widespread concerns throughout the world about terrorists pretending to be refugees, integration of refugees, and doubts that many seeking refuge are genuine:

  • Across all of the countries, four in ten (38%) agree that their country should close its borders to refugees entirely. In most countries the majority want to keep borders open, but majorities are in favour of closing borders in Turkey, India and Hungary, while the biggest increases in favour of closing borders since 2015 have been in Turkey, the US and Sweden.
  • On average, six in ten (61%) agree that terrorists are pretending to be refugees, with over seven in ten believing this to be the case in Turkey, Russian, India, Hungary, Germany and the US.  The biggest rises since 2011 have been in Russia and Germany Majorities in most countries also think that most foreigners coming to their country as refugees are not really refugees, but economic migrants (51% on average, with 70% in Russia thinking most refugees are economic migrants). 
  • And only 41% are confident that refugees coming to their country will successfully integrate into the country (scepticism is especially high in Turkey, France and Belgium, where at least six in ten lack confidence that integration can be achieved).Britain again stands roughly mid-table in its attitudes towards refugees. 
  • Only 31% of Brits support closing our borders to refugees (and twice as many, 60%, disagree), but 63% believe terrorists are pretending to be refugees. Concern about integration is in line with the average with 40% agreeing most refugees will integrate successfully while 47% disagree.  Half of Britons (51%) think that refugees are actually economic migrants, while 37% disagree.  

Commenting on the findings, Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of Ipsos's Social Research Institute said:   

Immigration is a global issue, with very few countries entirely at ease with current levels, control and the impact of the mass movement of people.  None of the 22 countries surveyed have a majority of people saying that immigration has had a positive impact on their country – although there are a very wide range of views within this. The sense of pressure in countries like Turkey, Italy, Hungary and Russia is particularly clear from the survey.   But views are far from entirely negative, with large minorities recognising how immigration has enriched their country.  And, despite the refugee crisis affecting many European and surrounding countries over the last few years, there has not been a wholesale negative shift in attitudes: concern has increased in individual countries, but across the 22 as a whole, attitudes have remained fairly stable over the last five years.    And Britain has in fact become more positive about many aspects of immigration. This might seem surprising given that the desire to reduce immigration was undoubtedly a key reason for the Brexit vote.  But firstly, we need to bear in mind that the survey shows that on each individual measure there are still more people who are negative than positive about immigration.  And secondly, the more positive shift in views reflects what we’ve seen in other studies; the Referendum has polarised opinion, with an increasing minority saying we’re focusing on immigration too much.    Looking forward to the negotiations with the EU on the terms of Britain’s departure, the survey provides a clear indication that Britons would be in favour of a points-based system to control immigrant numbers: we are the most likely out of all 22 countries included to say that skill levels should be a key criterion for allowing immigrants to come to the country.  

Technical note 16,040 interviews were conducted between June 24th – July 8th 2016 among adults aged 18-64 in the US and Canada, and adults aged 16-64 in all other countries. The survey was conducted in 22 countries around the world via the Ipsos Online Panel system. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.

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