Britain has a relatively large immigrant population

In 2013, 7.8 million people or 12.4 per cent of UK residents were born abroad, up from 8.9 per cent in 2004. Some 4.9 million or 7.8 per cent had non-British nationality, compared to 5 per cent in 2004.

Britain has a higher proportion of non-nationals than most European countries. But 10 EU states including Germany, Spain, Austria and Ireland have higher percentages: (graph: Eurostat)

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Many migrants are from other EU countries

Last year, for the first time, there were more citizens of other EU countries living in Britain (2.5 million) than people from outside the EU (2.4 million). How did this happen?

In 2004 eight new countries joined the EU: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

To match feature POSTCOMMUNIST-BRITAIN/POLES

Most countries imposed temporary restrictions on migrant workers from those countries, but Britain, Sweden and Ireland chose to allow them full access to their job markets.

The Polish-born population of the UK alone soared to more than half a million in four years: (graph: ONS)

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Some academics agree with Ukip leader Nigel Farage that this was almost certainly the biggest wave of inward migration ever to hit the British Isles.

There are around 2.5 million citizens from other EU countries living in Britain, which according to Eurostat is more than any other country except Germany.

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Note that only a small percentage of those people are unemployed. The much larger group of “economically inactive” people includes schoolchildren, students, pensioners and full-time carers.

EU migration works both ways

EU rules on freedom of movement mean Brits are free to live and work in other EU countries too. Estimates of UK residents living abroad vary wildly but the numbers are significant.

British Holidaymakers In Lloret De Mar

The best figures we have found are from Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, who found there were just under 1.1 million UK-born people living in other EU member states in 2011, based on individual census data.

The real number will be slightly higher, as data from Belgium and the Netherlands was not available.

The EU state with the largest British-born population in 2011 was Spain (296,000), followed by Ireland (287,000).

EU migrants are less likely to claim benefits

A report sponsored by the European Commission last year found that EU migrants in various countries were more likely to be in employment than “natives”.

There was “little evidence” of people migrating with the aim of claiming benefits rather than looking for work, and the rate of economic inactivity among EU migrants dropped from 47 per cent to 33 per cent between 2005 and 2012.

Not a fan of the European Commission? The OECD, Office for Budget Responsibility and University College London have all concluded that migrants pay more into the UK economy in taxes than they take out in benefits and public services.

Ukip’s target seats have fewer immigrants than average

Recent immigration policy announcements by the Conservatives and Labour have been widely seen as a response to the growing popularity of Ukip. Ukip voters say immigration is their biggest worry.

UK Independence Party  (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage walks on stage after hearing the results of the European Parliament election for the south east region, in Southampton
The party’s short list of 12 parliamentary seats they think they can win in next year’s general election was reported by Sky News earlier this year.

The target seats are: North Thanet, Forest of Dean, Sittingbourne and Sheppey, Aylesbury, East Worthing and Shoreham, Great Yarmouth, Thurrock, South Thanet, Eastleigh, Portsmouth South, Boston and Skegness, Great Grimsby.

According the latest official figures, the average proportion of people living in those 12 constituencies who were born in another country (EU, non-EU and Ireland) was 9.8 per cent.

The comparable figure for England and Wales as a whole was 13.4 per cent. So Ukip’s target seats have lower-than-average immigrant populations.

But we shouldn’t be surprised…

…that people living in low-immigration areas are still worried about migrants.

According to the latest British Social Attitudes survey, “those most likely to be directly exposed to migration in their daily lives have much more positive views”.

“Londoners, those with migrant heritage, and those with migrant friends (all of whom are more likely to have regular direct contact with migrants) have more positive than negative views about immigration’s effects.

“The most intensely negative views are found among the oldest voters, and those with no migrant friends.”