What does the latest census data tell us about migration?

Findings from the Office for National Statistics represent a snapshot in time on a single day on March 21 last year.

Crowds of people
Crowds of people

The latest data published on the results of the 2021 census paints a picture of changes in migration over the last decade in England and Wales.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) findings, representing a snapshot in time on a single day on March 21 last year, confirm how the number of people living in the two nations who were not born in the UK has risen since 2011. Particularly they highlight increases in Romanian arrivals – arguably a potentially inevitable result of the lifting of working restrictions across the European Union in 2014.

The figures published on Wednesday also explore how many passports are held and by people of which nationalities; the areas of the country with the highest proportion of non-UK born residents, when people came to live in the UK and their age.

(PA Graphics)


Overall, the results showed 51.6million usual England and Wales residents (86.5%) held at least one passport and 8million (13.5%) did not have a passport, down from 9.5 million (16.9%) in 2011.

Those who held a UK passport increased, from 42.5 million (75.7%) in 2011 to 45.7 million (76.7%) in 2021.

Those who held a non-UK passport also rose, from 4.2 million (7.4%) in 2011 to 5.9 million (9.9%) in 2021.

Of those, 3.9 million were EU passports, an increase of 72.5% from 2011, when 2.3 million people had passports from the same EU countries including Croatia.

The most common non-UK passport held was Polish (760,000, 1.3% of all usual residents).

The number of EU passport holders living in England and Wales was smaller than the number who applied for permission to carry on living in the UK after Brexit, when freedom of movement ended. Since the EU settlement scheme (EUSS) opened, it received around 5.5 million applications from EU citizens living in England and Wales.

This suggests many EU citizens who submitted applications to the EUSS may have left the UK by March last year, according to the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.

Director Madeleine Sumption said: “One of the main reasons the number of EU citizens living in the UK on census day is smaller than the number of applicants to the EU Settlement Scheme is that people who had previously lived in the UK had left. One of the big unknowns is how many have returned over the past year and a half, or might still do so in future.”


Of the top 20 council areas with the highest proportion of non-UK born residents, 18 were in London.

The areas with the highest proportions were Brent (56.1%), Westminster (55.6%) and Kensington and Chelsea (53.9%).

The only non-London local authorities in the top 20 were Slough (44.0%) and Leicester (41.1%)

The Welsh local authority with the highest proportion was Cardiff (16.5%).

By contrast, the local authorities with the lowest proportion of non-UK born residents were the Staffordshire Moorlands (2.6%) and Caerphilly (2.9%).

Age and dates:

In 2021, 545,000 usual residents (0.9% of the population) told the ONS their address one year before the census was outside the UK. This is down 11% from 612,000 (1.1%) in 2011.

Of the 10 million residents in England and Wales in 2021 who were not born in the UK, 4.2 million (42.4%) had arrived since 2011, 2.7 million (26.9%) had arrived between 2001 and 2010, and 3.1 million (30.7%) had arrived before 2001.

Some 3 million non-UK born usual residents were below the age of 18 when they arrived in the UK (30.2% of all non-UK born usual residents, down from 33.3% in 2011).

There were 4.3 million people aged 18 to 29 (42.4%, down from 44.8% in 2011) and 2.1 million aged 30 to 44 (21.1%, up from 17.4% in 2011).

The study also shows 546,000 were aged 45 to 64 (5.5%, up from 3.9% in 2011) and 79,000 were aged 65 years and over when they arrived (0.8%, up from 0.6% in 2011).

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