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22.3.2013 | Von:
Lisa Breford

United Kingdom

One major indicator of migrant influx to the UK are the National Insurance Numbers (NINo).

Die Brick Lane im East End von London, seit vielen Jahrzehnten bevölkert von Migranten aus Bangladesch.Brick Lane in London's East End has been populated by migrants and their descendants for many decades. (© picture alliance / Alan Copson/Robert Harding)

Foreign (overseas) nationals who want to gain employment “or claim benefits / tax credits in the UK” (Department for Work and Pensions 2012, p. 1) are required to attain a NINo. [1] Regarding EU based immigration, the overall allocation of NINos has decreased by 8.2% from 2010/11 to 2011/12 [2] for those states that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007 (EU-12) (Department for Work and Pensions 2012, p. 9).

However, total allocations of NINos to nationals from the rest of the EU have risen by 6.6% for the period from 2010/11 to 2011/12. This rise is due to an increase in numbers for a few countries only; the three countries with the highest rise were Spain with an increase in registrations of 24.6% compared to the previous year, Portugal rising by 24.3% and Greece by 53.6% (Department for Work and Pensions 2012, p. 10).

Foreign resident population in the United Kingdom by citizenship, 2004-2011Foreign resident population in the United Kingdom by citizenship, 2004-2011 Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)
The fact that all of these countries have unemployment rates higher than the UK with 8% in 2011 (in comparison to Spain (21.7%), Portugal (12.9%) and Greece 17.7% (Eurostat 2013, Table 2)) could suggest that this is the main reason for the increase in migration to the UK from those countries (Department for Work and Pensions 2012, p. 10). However, this reasoning does not hold in the case of Ireland which has also been heavily affected by the recession and is struggling with high unemployment rates (14.6% in 2011 (Central Statistics Office 2012a)). Yet, NINo allocations for Ireland have decreased – even though only slightly by 1.4% – for the same period (Department for Work and Pensions 2012, p. 10). Hence, the interrelation between the two areas is not as straightforward as it may seem (Department for Work and Pensions 2012, p. 10).

Immigration from Ireland

The decrease in NINo allocations to Irish nationals is especially surprising as one would expect the close ties between Ireland and the UK with regard to culture and language as well as their geographical proximity [3] to act as strong pull factors for Irish migrants.

However, it seems that recent migratory flows of Irish nationals have been influenced by trends originating in “the Celtic Tiger era, particularly the Irish version of the Gap Year in Australia” (Gilmartin 2012, p. 13) [4], which means that especially young Irish migrants might move to countries overseas such as Australia rather than migrating to Great Britain.

The Gap Year denotes a year during which people take time off from work or after graduating from university for traveling, volunteering or working abroad. In Ireland, the Gap Year became very popular among the younger generations during the boom with Australia being the main destination country (Gilmartin 2012, p. 12). Young Irish migrants, the maximum age at time of application is 30 years (Department of Immigration and Citizenship 2012, p. 3), access Australia “through the Working Holiday Visa programme, which facilitates temporary migration” (Gilmartin 2012, p. 12). This is due to the fact that the Working Holiday Visa limits the stay in Australia to a maximum of one year with the option to apply for another year only if certain requirements have been fulfilled (Department of Immigration and Citizenship 2012, p. 4).

According to Australian statistics, the number of Irish citizens holding a Working Holiday Visa in Australia increased by 32.7% to a total of 19.441 between the 30/06/2011 and the 30/06/2012 (Department of Immigration and Citizenship 2012, p. 20). Hence, it seems that at least in the case of Ireland, overseas destinations maintain an important role and may even be seen as gaining importance.

Although immigration from crisis-hit euro zone countries has so far been moderate, it has been the topic of a heated debate in the UK. One area of specific contention is the introduction of immigration restrictions for EU citizens which would be a clear diversion from the fundamental principle of freedom of movement within the EU (Leppard and Hookham 2012).


Following the EU enlargement in 2004, migrants from EU-8 countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) were also obliged “to register with the Home Office administered Worker Registration Scheme if they [were] employed in the UK for a month or more.” (Kahanec et al. 2010, p. 4). The purpose of this additional scheme was to support the supervision of the development and impact of migration movements from the new member states (Kahanec et al. 2010, p. 4). The Worker Registration Scheme ended in April 2011 (UK Border Agency, date unknown).
In this report, NINo allocations are reported for the financial year (i.e. April 2010 – March 2011).
Traveling between Ireland and the UK is also eased by the Common Travel Area between the two countries which means that Irish and British nationals are subject to less controls than citizens from other EU countries when crossing the border (Gilmartin 2012, p. 13).
The term Celtic Tiger era refers to a period of rapid economic growth in Ireland between 1995 and 2008.
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