Almost half of Britons view immigrants’ impact on Britain as positive despite most saying they want immigration numbers reduced

Only 54% want the number of immigrants coming to Britain to decrease, compared to 66% in 2015.

The author(s)

  • Kully Kaur-Ballagan Public Affairs
  • Stephanie Holden Public Affairs
  • Glenn Gottfried Public Affairs
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In the latest survey by Ipsos MORI for IMIX, more Britons believe migration has had a positive impact on Britain (47%) than a negative effect (29%). Those who voted to remain in the EU in 2016 are significantly less likely to believe migration has a negative impact on Britain. Only 12% of remainers think so, compared to almost of (47%) of leave voters. However, while remainers’ views have stayed broadly stable since October 2016, leavers have become less negative (six percentage point down from 53%).

Still, over half of Britons (54%) say they want to see the number of immigrants coming to Britain reduced. Three in ten would like to see numbers stay the same while only 9% want an increase. However, there has been a continuing decrease in the level of disagreement over the last four years. In June 2015, two-thirds (66%) of respondents wanted to see a reduction in the number of immigrants coming to Britain, 12 percentage points higher than it is today. 

While a majority want to see a reduction in the overall numbers of immigrants, when asked about specific occupations the public’s opinion is more nuanced. In fact, almost half say they want to see an increase in the number of nurses (49%) and doctors (47%) coming to the UK from the European Union after Britain leaves– consistent with findings from December 2018. However, compared to six months ago more people want to see an increase in care home workers (32% vs 28%) and academics (29% vs 22%).

The effects of immigration continue to split opinion. While 30% believe immigration is good for the standard of living for people already living in Britain, 36% disagree. Furthermore, two-thirds (67%) believe that migration puts pressure on public services and housing. People are also divided over the integration of cultures. Half of Britons (49%) agree that immigration enriches the UK culture and makes it a more interesting place to live, however six in ten (61%) believe that too often, migrants don’t integrate or follow British customs.

Opinion is also split on how Brexit will impact immigration. A quarter (26%) of Britons believe the number of immigrants entering the UK illegally from other EU countries will increase while one in five (21%) believe it will decrease. A third (34%) believe it will stay the same.

Dissatisfaction with the government’s response to immigration has remained the same since Boris Johnson entered No. 10. In December 2018, 57% felt dissatisfied with how Theresa May’s government was dealing with immigration, while 59% are dissatisfied with Boris Johnson’s actions so far. 

Citizenship findings:

  • A third (32%) believe the British government should do more to encourage immigrants living in Britain to become citizens, 35% believe they should continue to do the same, 11% believe they should do less
  • Four in ten (39%) disagree that the process of becoming a citizen should be made easier
  • A third (36%) believe the £1,330 fee to apply for citizenship should be reduced, 21% think it should be increased

The English Channel Boat Crossings findings:

  • Only half (53%) of Britons have sympathy for those attempting to cross the English Channel by boat, 43% have little or no sympathy
  • Six in ten (62%) believe migrants who cross the Channel from France should be returned to France
  • Opinion is split as to whether the British government has a duty to ensure migrants crossing the channel by boats are safe (37% agree, 38% disagree) 
  • 44% believe there should be an amnesty to allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country if they’ve been living and working here for at least 10 years (42% disagree)

Kully Kaur-Ballagan, Research Director at Ipsos MORI commented: 

The public’s concern over immigration has been falling – with more people now saying that that immigration has had a positive impact on Britain – and even among leavers for whom immigration was a key issue in the referendum, we have seen shifting attitudes.   That said, there is still a desire to see numbers come down although not in a way that may damage public services such as the NHS.  Given the Conservatives’ pledge to bring down numbers – it will be an election issue but one which our research shows is more likely to appeal to Conservative supporters and those who voted leave.  

Emma Harrison, Chief Executive at IMIX, said:

Once again, evidence shows that political parties are out of step with public opinion. The public has a much more nuanced view on immigration which can’t be reduced to a media friendly soundbite. 

While concern around immigration is dropping, now more than ever we need an honest conversation about the role migrants play in delivering vital public services. It’s also time for politicians – and the media – to champion the benefits of migration to ensure that the NHS and care services can thrive post Brexit. 

Notes to editors

  • Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 2,006 British online adults aged 18+ between 9 – 23 August 2019. The is study is funded by Unbound Philanthropy and the Barrow Cadbury Trust.  Interviews were conducted on Ipsos’ online panel and results have been weighted by demographic factors to represent the British population.
  • IMIX is the communications hub for the UK’s immigration reform sector. More information:

The author(s)

  • Kully Kaur-Ballagan Public Affairs
  • Stephanie Holden Public Affairs
  • Glenn Gottfried Public Affairs

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