Migrants in the UK Labour Market: An Overview

4th November 2014
Next update
04/11/2015
Press contact
Rob McNeil

This briefing provides an overview of the employment levels and employment shares of migrants in the UK economy as a whole, and in specific sectors and occupations.

Key points

  • The number of foreign-born people of working age in the UK more than doubled from 2.9 million in 1993 to slightly more than 6 million in 2013.
    More...
  • The share of foreign-born people in total employment increased from 7.2% in 1993 to 15.2% in 2013. The share of foreign-citizens in total employment increased from 3.5% in 1993 to 9.3% in 2013. 
    More...
  • Compared to the early 2000s, the presence of foreign-born workers has grown fastest in relatively low-skilled sectors and occupations. The increase in the share of foreign-born workers was fastest among process operatives (e.g. transport drivers, food, drink and tobacco process operators), up from 8.5% in 2002 to 29.3% in 2013.
    More...
  • In 2013, 36% of all foreign-born workers working as employees, and 45% of self-employed foreign-born workers lived in London.
    More...

Understanding the evidence

Migrants can be defined in at least three different ways: by place of birth (i.e. foreign-born), nationality (i.e. foreign citizens), and length of stay in the UK. As the foreign-born definition is most commonly used in UK debates and analyses, it is the default definition used in this briefing. Wherever relevant and indicated, this briefing also provides figures for foreign citizens residing in the UK, as well as for recent migrants – defined as foreign-born people who have been living in the UK for 5 years or less. The focus is on those migrants of working age defined as 16 to 64 for men and 16 to 59 for women. The briefing draws on data from the UK’s Labour Force Survey (LFS) conducted by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS).

 

The number of foreign-born people of working age in the UK increased from 2.9 million in 1993 to more than 6 million in 2013

The number of working-age foreign-born people in the UK increased from 2.9 million in 1993 to more than 6 million in 2013 (see Figure 1). The annual increases have been mostly positive, but there are a few cases of slight decreases (e.g. 2007, 2009 and 2010). There was a significant jump in the number of foreign-born workers in the UK during 2006, which coincides with the opening of UK labour markets to workers from the A8 countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia) in mid-2004.

Since 2005, there has been an even gender distribution in the stock of foreign-born people of working-age in the UK. Before 2005, foreign-born women workers outnumbered men.

Figure 1

Back to top

The share of foreign-born persons in total employment increased from 7.2% in 1993 to 15.2% in 2013

Figure 2 shows the share of migrants in total employment. The term “employment” is based on the ILO/OECD definition and refers to all workers aged 16 to 64 for men and 16 to 59 for women who are “at work” both part time and full time. The share of foreign-born persons in total employment increased from 7.2 % in 1993 to 15.2% in 2013. In 2013, foreign-citizens made up 9.3% of total employment, up from 3.5% in 1993. The share of recent migrants in total employment increased significantly in recent years although it declined slightly since 2008, possibly due to the global economic recession, but increased slightly in 2013.

Figure 2

Back to top

Elementary process plant occupations and cleaning and housekeeping managers and supervisions have the highest shares of foreign-born workers

The increase in the share of foreign-born workers in employment in the UK has been highly differentiated across occupations and sectors. Although foreign-born workers have been and remain employed in a wide range of jobs, the growth in employment shares of foreign-born workers in recent years has been fastest among lower-skilled occupations and sectors. In 2002, there was only one low-skilled occupation (food preparation trades) in the list of top ten occupations with the highest shares of foreign-born workers. As shown in Table 1, there are now at least five low-skilled occupations on this list (i.e. elementary process plant, cleaning and housekeeping, food preparation trade, elementary cleaning, and process operatives).

In 2013, 43.3% of workers in elementary process plant occupations (e.g. industry cleaning process occupation and packers, bottlers, canners and fillers), 38.6% in cleaning and housekeeping managers and supervisions, and 31.6% of workers food preparation and hospitality trades (i.e. butchers, bakers and flour confectioners, fishmongers and poultry dressers, chefs, cooks, and catering and bar managers) were foreign-born. The increase in the share of migrant labour has been greatest among process operatives (e.g. food, drink and tobacco process operatives, plastics process operatives, chemical and related process operatives) up from 8.5% in 2002 to 29.3% in 2013. As discussed by Aldin et al. (2010) a significant share of relatively skilled recent migrants have taken up employment in less-skilled occupations in the UK.

Table 1 - Top ten occupations of foreign-born workers, 2013

Top 10 by workforce share, all migrants
%Occupation shareTop 10 by workforce share, recent migrants
%
Occupation share
 (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)
1Elementary process plant occupations43.30.85Elementary process plant occupations20.60.85
2Cleaning and housekeeping managers and supervisors38.60.19Elementary cleaning occupations10.12.32
3Food preparation and hospitality trades31.61.58Process operatives10.10.95
4Elementary cleaning occupations30.52.32Cleaning and housekeeping managers and supervisors8.80.19
5Process operatives29.30.95Natural and social science professionals8.70.64
6Health professionals25.21.68Food preparation and hospitality trades6.71.58
7Natural and social science professionals250.64Elementary storage occupations6.61.43
8Managers and proprietors in hospitality and leisure services250.84Other elementary process occupations6.43.23
9Chief executives and senior officials24.40.21Elementary agricultural occupations6.40.28
10Textiles and garments trades24.80.23IT and telecommunications Professionals5.72.91

Note: occupation share indicates the share of total employment represented by the occupation.

Source: Labour Force Survey 2013

Back to top

Manufacture of food products was the sector with the highest share of foreign-born labour in 2013

In 2013 the industry with the highest share of foreign-born workers in its workforce was food products manufacturing, where about 37.4% of the workforce was foreign-born (see Table 2). The sector with the second highest share of foreign-born workers was manufacture of wearing apparel (33.8%) followed by domestic personnel (31.2%).

Table 2 shows that recent migrants concentrate in similar low-skilled sectors. These include manufacture of food products (14.5% of total employment in the sector), accommodation (9.5%) and manufacture of wearing apparel (9.4%).

Table 2 - Top ten sectors of foreign-born workers, 2013

Top 10 by workforce share, all migrants
%
Industry share (%)
Top 10 by workforce share, recent migrants
%Industry share (%)
 (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)
2Manufacture of food products37.41.16Manufacture of food products14.51.16
2Manufacture of wearing apparel33.80.14Accommodation9.51.17
3Domestic personnel31.20.16Manufacture of wearing apparel9.40.14
4Accommodation27.81.17Manufacture of pharmaceuticals8.50.38
5Food and beverage service activities27.14.05Food and beverage service activities7.44.05
6Services to buildings and landscape23.31.93Manufacture of furniture6.50.3
7Manufacture of pharmaceuticals23.10.38Computer programming and consultancy5.72.04
8Security & investigation activities22.70.65Employment activities5.70.75
9Warehousing & support for transport22.51.18Information service activities5.40.1
10Computer programming and consultancy21.12.04Forestry and logging5.20.08

Note: sector share indicates the share of total employment represented by the occupations

Source: Labour Force Survey 2013

Back to top

In 2013, 36% of total foreign-born workers working as employees, and 45% of self-employed foreign-born workers lived in London

The foreign-born population in the UK is particularly concentrated in London (see the Migration Observatory briefing on ‘Migrants in the UK: An Overview’). This is also the case for those migrants who are in employment. As Figure 3 shows, in 2013 about one-third of total migrants working as employees, and 45% of self-employed migrants lived in London. A lower share of recent migrants working as employees lived in London (35%). Meanwhile, about 52% of self-employed recent migrants lived in London.

Figure 3

Back to top

Evidence gaps and limitations

The LFS does not contain information on short-term migrants because the survey excludes individuals who have been resident in their households for less than 6 months (Dustmann et al. 2010). Also, the LFS excludes those who do not live in households, such as those in hotels, caravan parks, and other communal establishments; it also excludes halls of residence, thus missing many overseas students (many of whom are known to be legally working in the UK). Furthermore, the LFS does not include asylum seekers. Finally, the LFS is unlikely to capture migrants working without the legal right to live and/or work in the UK. See the data sources and limitations section of the Migration Observatory website for further discussion.

References

  • Aldin, V., D. James, and J. Wadsworth. “The Changing Shares of Migrant Labour in Different Sectors and Occupations in the UK Economy: an Overview.” In Who Needs Migrant Workers? Labour Shortages, Immigration, and Public Policy” edited by Martin Ruhs and Bridget Anderson. Oxford: OUP, 2010.
  •  Dustmann, C., T. Frattini, and C. Halls. “Assessing the Fiscal Costs and Benefits of A8 Migration to the UK.” Fiscal Studies 31 (2010):1-41.
  • Select Committee on Economic Affairs, House of Lords. "The Economic Impact of Immigration." House of Lords, London, 2008.
  • Ruhs, M. and Bridget Anderson. Who Needs Migrant Workers? Labour Shortages, Immigration and Public Policy. Oxford: OUP, 2010.

Further readings

  • Dustmann,C., F. Fabbri, and I. Preston. “The Impact of Immigration on the UK Labour Market.” Economic Journal 115 (2005): F324-41.
  • Larorre, M. and H. Reed. “The Economic Impact of Migration on the UK Labour Market.” Economics of Migration Working Paper 3, Institute for Public Policy Research, London, 2009.
  • Nickell, S. and J. Salaheen. “The Impact of Immigration on Occupational Wages: British Evidence.” Working paper, Nuffield College, Oxford, 2008.

Related material

With thanks to: Bridget Anderson, Martin Ruhs, Carlos Vargas-Silva and Mary Gregory for comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this briefing.

Press contact

If you would like to make a press enquiry, please contact:
Rob McNeil
+ 44 (0)1865 274568
+ 44 (0)7500 970081
robert.mcneil@compas.ox.ac.uk