What is the Impact of Immigration on Family Life?

Changes to the the dependency ratio and age structure are two impacts.

This post looks at the recent increase in net migration to the UK, and at some of the reasons for increasing immigration in particular, including push and pull factors. It also looks at the impact of immigration on family life in the UK.

Recent Patterns of Migration to the UK

The Office for National Statistics Net migration was actually negative during the 1970s and early 1980s, turning positive but at a relatively low level during the 1980s and early 1990s. Since 1994, it has been positive every year and rose sharply after 1997.

graph showing migration to and from the UK 1970 to 2024

During the 2000s, net migration increased further, partly as a result of immigration of citizens from the countries that have joined the EU since 2004. Since the mid 2000s, annual net migration has fluctuated between approximately 150,000 and 300,000.

From 2018 Net Migration decreased from just over 300 000, coming close to 0 in the pandemic lockdown year of 2020.

However since 2020 net migration increased rapidly to reach 600 000 in 2022.

graph showing increased migration to the UK 2018 to 2022.

Migration statistics to and from the UK in 2022

According to the latest migration statistics from the the ONS(1):

  • 1.2 million people immigrated into the UK 2022
  • 557,000 people emigrated from the UK 
  • This means that net migration to the UK in 2022 was 606,000. 
  • Most people arriving to the UK in 2022 were non-EU nationals (925,000), followed by EU (151,000) and British (88,000).
  • Immigration has been unusually high over the last 18 months of available statistics, primarily due to increased numbers of non-EU people coming to the UK for humanitarian reasons from Ukraine and Hong Kong. Immigration figures should reduce in future years, as they did in the last quarter of 2022. 
  • The proportion of people immigrating to the UK has been decreasing since Brexit.

Why do people come to the UK?

For non-EU nationals the main reasons people came to the UK in 2022 were

  • Study – 39% of non EU immigrants came to the UK to study, mostly at university. 
  • Work – 25% of non EU immigrants come to the UK for work, 
  • 19% of immigrants came via humanitarian routes, such as the Ukraine scheme. 
  • 8% of immigrants entered the UK claiming asylum

For EU nationals, the proportions are slightly different: 50% came for work related reasons and a further 25% for study.

Where do people come to the UK from?

According to the Migration Observatory (2) the top birth countries for UK immigrants are:

  1. India (9.3%)
  2. Poland (7.1%)
  3. Pakistan
  4. The Republic of Ireland
  5. Germany
  6. Romania
  7. Nigeria
  8. South Africa
  9. Italy
  10. China

Note that these are not just the origins of people who came to the UK in 2022. They are the birth countries of everyone who came to the UK at some point!

Asylum Seekers Coming to the UK 

In the year ending September 2022, the UK received 72,027 asylum applications from main applicants only (3).

The UK is below the European average for asylum applications and ranks 18th among EU countries per head of population.

Asylum seekers were around eight per cent of immigrants to the UK in 2018.

The number of asylum seekers in the UK has doubled since 2018, but this is a global trend.

What is an asylum seeker?

An asylum seeker is someone who:

  • flees their homeland
  • arrives in another country , whichever way they can
  • makes themselves known to the authorities
  • submits an asylum application
  • has a legal right to stay in the country while awaiting a decision.

The Causes of Increasing Migration to the UK

The simplest level of analysis lies in explaining increasing migration to the UK in terms of push and pull factors:

Push Factors refer to problems which encourage a person to leave or emigrate from their country.

Pull Factors refer to the real or perceived benefits of another country which attract people to it, or migrate towards it.

You should be able to identify a number of  push and pull factors from the material above note down at least two push and pull factors which repel people from other countries and attract them towards the UK.

Increasing globalisation is also fundamentally linked to globalisation, which is covered below. 

The Impact of Immigration on Family Life

There are three main effects of increasing immigration on family life:

  1. Population size is increasing because net migration is increasing. If it were not for high net migration the UK population would be shrinking due to low birth rates, which on their own are below the fertility rate required to replace the population, which is 2.1. babies per woman.
  2. The age structure changes. Immigration lowers that average age of the population both directly and indirectly. Directly because immigrants tend to be younger by 10 years than the British born population. Indirectly because Immigrant women have a higher fertility ratio – they have more babies than British born women.
  3. The dependency ratio changes. Here immigration has three effects:
  • Immigrants are more likely to be of working age and this thus helps lower the dependency ratio.
  • However because they are younger, immigrants have more children and so the immigrants’ children add to the dependent population.
  • Finally, the longer a group is settled in the country, the closer their fertility rate comes to the national average, reducing their distinct impact on the dependency ratio.

Impacts on Public Services..

It is not possible to say with certainty what the implications of migration are for public services, and these impacts are likely to vary by area and depending on the type of public service.

Migrants contribute to demand for public services. If foreign-born people in the UK used public services in the same way as demographically similar UK-born people, they would be expected to make less use of health and social care, but greater use of education.

Migrants also contribute to financing and providing public services, and are over represented in the health care and social care work forces.

The Political Impact of Globalisation 

States now have policies that seek to control immigration, absorb migrants into society and deal with increased ethnic and cultural diversity. More recently policies have also become linked to national security and anti-terrorism policies.

Assimilationism was the first state policy approach to immigration. It aimed to encourage immigrants to adopt the language, values and customs of the host culture, to become ‘like us’. However assimilationist policies have mainly failed because of the desire of many migrants to retain aspects of their ‘culture of origin’.

Multiculturalism accepts that migrants may wish to retain a separate cultural identity. One consequence of multicultural policy is the emergence of multicultural education in schools. However, Eriksen criticises such education as encouraging ‘shallow diversity’ – so we accept the surface elements of other cultures such as Samosas and Saris, but it fails to address issues surrounding ‘deep diversity’ such as arranged marriages.

Since September 11th many politicians have demanded a return to assimilationsim

Two further consequences include –

  • A More Multicultural Society
  • A divided working class and the white working class backlash.

Sources and Signposting

This material is usually taught as part of the families and households module within A-level sociology.

(1) Office for National Statistics: Long-term international migration, provisional: year ending December 2022.

(2) The Migration Observatory

(3) UNHCR Asylum in the UK

Sources used to write the above include information from the ONS, British Red Cross and Rob Webb et al’s  AS level Sociology book for the AQA.