Immigration to grow UK population by 6m in next 25 years

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The UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS) says that the population of the UK is set to grow by nearly 10m over the next 25 years and calculates that 5.8m of that rise will be caused directly or indirectly by immigration.

The ONS says that its projections indicate that the UK's population should reach 68m in 2022, 70m in 2027 and 73.3m in 2037. Part of this rise will be caused by the fact that people are generally living longer. By 2037, one in 12 of the population will be over 80. There will be 111,000 people aged over 100, compared to only 13,000 today.

But the majority of the population growth is likely to be caused by immigration, the ONS believes.

Population projections used in formulating policy

The ONS carries out calculations of this sort every two years to assist policy makers in the formulation of policy. Richard Pereira, the ONS's head of population statistics, told journalists 'These population projections are used across government in terms of setting policy.

They are used by the Office of Budget Responsibility as a key input for their long-term fiscal projections. They are used by the Department for Work and Pensions for policy on benefits and pensions and they are used by people like the Department of Education'.

The ONS has based its calculations on the assumption that every year, the UK will experience net immigration of 165,000 people. Net annual immigration is calculated by subtracting the number of people who settle in the country in any given year and subtracting the number of people who leave the country permanently over the same period.

Immigration accounts directly for 43% of growth

The ONS calculations show that, over the next 25 years, net immigration is likely to increase the UK population by 4.2m. This accounts for 43% of the projected rise. However, the ONS also says that immigration will be indirectly responsible for a further 17% of the population growth over the next 25 years.

This is because the birth rate among immigrants generally tends to be higher so immigrants in the UK are likely to be responsible for an increase in the number of births. The ONS predicts that immigration, and the related increase in birth rate, will actually cause the UK population to grow by 5.8m by 2037; 60% of the total.

Almost all of the growth is predicted to take place in England rather than Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The vast majority of immigrants to the UK settle in the south east of England.

Net immigration has fallen by 85,000 since 2010

In 2010, the UK's net annual immigration figure was 250,000 but the UK's current Coalition government has been trying to cut immigration and has so far cut it around 165,000 a year.

It has said that it intends to cut it to 100,000 per annum but a recent report published by statisticians at University College London suggests that it may prove difficult for the government to cut immigration any further without damaging the UK economy.

Before the last general election in 2010, the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, said that, if he became Prime Minister, he would act to reduce net immigration below 100,000 by 2015. This remains a government target.

ONS figures subject to revision

If the government persists with its policy of reducing immigration and has any success in doing so, then the ONS will revise its estimates downwards on the next occasion that it calculates the UK's likely population growth.

So far, the government has

  • Closed the Tier 1 (Post Study Work) visa stream. This allowed foreign graduates to work in the UK for two years after graduation.
  • Closed the Tier 1 (General) visa stream. This allowed 'highly skilled people' (mostly graduates) to settle in the UK
  • Introduced a cap of 20,700 on the number of Tier 2 (General) visa for skilled workers. Although the cap is never reached, employers report that it has become harder to obtain a Tier 2 (General) visa
  • Removed the right of over 600 English colleges to sponsor foreign students for Tier 4 student visas
  • Prevented UK citizens who earn less than £18,600 a year from bringing their foreign born spouses to live in the UK

Population rise 'could be disastrous'

The UK Independence Party candidate Amjad Bashir told The Independent newspaper 'ten million more people added to the UK population in just 25 years is staggering and it could well be disastrous'.

Anti-immigration group Migrationwatch UK called for the introduction of a 'net migration target' to help control the population growth.

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