Demographic Change in Scotland

This research paper sets out current evidence relating to demogrpahy in Scotland, exploring the implications of demographic change and related policy issues, with reference to Scotland's Population Growth Purpose Target


  • Recent gains in net migration - peaking at 27,000 in 2007 - have had a significant impact on Scotland's population gains.
  • About half of migrants to Scotland are from England (54%).
  • About half of overseas migrants to the UK are from the EU.
  • Migrants from the EU A8 countries have contributed to the rise in net in-migration, with Poland being the most significant country of origin.
  • About a million people born in Scotland currently live elsewhere.
  • Migrants (in and out of Scotland) tend to be young and single, with a fairly even split between males and females.
  • The main reasons for migration are economic, employment and study related.
  • Many overseas migrants (from A8 countries in particular) work in low skill, low pay work below their qualification level.

6.1 This section presents information about migration to and from Scotland. Population growth is a key contributing factor to economic growth, and in-migration is the only option for significantly increasing the population - and the working age population in particular - in the short term. Increased migration has been a key element in progress towards the GES Population Growth Purpose Target. In-migration generally provides a source of working age people who may choose to settle in Scotland long term and have their families here. Thus, as well as supporting population growth, sustained levels of net migration can also influence, to an extent, the age structure of the population.

Migration trends in Scotland

6.2 Traditionally, Scotland has recorded high levels of out-migration; retention of the Scots-born population and long term settlement of migrants coming to Scotland are both therefore important factors in the level of achieved net in-migration. The increase in Scotland's population over recent years, however, has been largely driven by migration; GROS 2009 mid year estimates show 21,700 more people came to Scotland in 2008-9 than left.

6.3 Net migration is the difference between in-migration and out-migration with a positive figure representing greater numbers of immigrants than emigrants. GROS 2009 mid year estimates show that around 88,100 migrants came to Scotland in 2008-9, while around 66,500 people left Scotland, giving a net gain of 21,700. Scotland has seen net in-migration in each of the past 7 years, a reversal of the long term trend over previous decades when Scotland was a country of net out-migration. Net migration figures from GROS for 2002-3 to 2008-9 are shown in Table 6 below:

Table 6: Scottish net migration (2002-2009)

Net gain (approximate)















6.4 The net in-migration figure for 2006-7 was the highest recorded since current records began. Although the figures show a reduction in net migration thereafter, the figures recorded in 2007-8 and 2008-9 are still the fifth and third highest ever recorded.

6.5 The net in-migration in recent years can be attributed to net in-migration at both UK and overseas levels. At UK level (migration between Scotland and England, Wales and N Ireland) the notable trend is a steady reduction in out-migration over the last decade (see Figure 14 below).

Figure 14: Scottish migration to/from rest of the UK (1981 - 2008)

Figure 14: Scottish migration to/from rest of the UK (1981 - 2008)

Source: GROS

6.6 At overseas level (migration between Scotland and countries outwith the UK) the notable feature is the upward trend in inward migration, especially the sharp increase recorded from 2003-4 to 2004-5 (coinciding with the incorporation of the A8 countries into the EU) (see Figure 15). In the year 2008-9 there was a net gain of around 4,500 at UK level and around 17,500 at overseas level. In-migration from the A8 countries in particular is a phenomenon which has come to the fore in recent years (see para 6.11 below) and has contributed significantly to the achieved level of net in-migration. It is interesting to note that the migration projects carried out as part of the Scottish Demography Research Programme focused on graduate migration and retention, and migration to and from the SE England; there was very little mention of either European or worldwide migration (in or out) at that time in discussing major issues impacting on Scotland's population.

Figure 15: Scottish migration to/from overseas (1991 - 2008)

Figure 15: Scottish migration to/from overseas (1991 - 2008)

Source: GROS

6.7 Current GROS projections to 2033 (based on 2008 estimates) show the continuation of net in-migration, although dropping back to a lower level of around 12,000 by 2014-15, and continuing at that level until 2033. However, migration is the element of population change that is most open to short term fluctuation; projections are based on previous trends and do not take account of factors such as the recent economic downturn or the opening up of other EU countries to A8 migrants.

Geographical variations in migration

6.8 GROS 2009 mid year estimates show the top destinations for migrants to Scotland (from elsewhere in the UK and overseas) to be Edinburgh and Glasgow (significantly ahead of other areas). For those from the UK the next most popular destinations are Fife, Highland and Aberdeen City; for those from overseas the next most popular destinations are Aberdeen City, Perth and Kinross and Fife. The top areas for out-migration are very similar, again showing figures significantly above other areas. Edinburgh and Glasgow are the biggest exporting areas. For those leaving for elsewhere in the UK, Fife, Aberdeen City and Highland are the next biggest exporting areas (the same as the destination areas); for those leaving for overseas, Fife, Highland and Dundee are the next most common exporting areas. Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen City, Highland, and Perth and Kinross are the top net importers of migrants for overseas and elsewhere in the UK. In terms of the urban-rural split, net in-migration is a feature for both urban and rural Scotland. However, as discussed in para 3.7, there are differences in age related migration patterns, with rural areas tending to be net exporters of young people (16 -24 year olds) and net importers of people in the older age groups.

Characteristics of migrants to Scotland

6.9 Forty-five thousand people moved to Scotland from elsewhere in the UK in 2008-9 ( GROS 2009 mid year estimates) accounting for over half (52%) of all migrants to Scotland. The vast majority of UK migrants come from England (93% in 2007-8), with 3 regions - London, South East and North West - accounting for a significant proportion of all migrants from England (44% in 2007-8). In 2007-8, Scotland recorded net gains from each of the UK countries except Northern Ireland.

6.10 In the same period around 42,700 people moved to Scotland from overseas. International Passenger Survey ( IPS) based estimates for Scotland indicate that almost half of such migrants are from the EU (48%) (with 41% from the EU15).

6.11 In relation to immigrants from A8 countries in the EU, the Workers Registration Scheme ( WRS) provides some additional information, indicating that by March 2009 over 80,000 workers had registered in Scotland, representing around 7% of all A8 workers who have come to the UK under the scheme; not all these workers, however, will remain in Scotland as the scheme does not collect information on those leaving the country. At UK level, by far the most common country of origin for these workers was Poland, accounting for 66% of all applicants (reflecting the relative size of Poland to the other A8 countries) ( UKBA (2009) Accession Monitoring Report).

6.12 Migrants to Scotland tend to be younger than the resident population. Almost half of UK migrants to Scotland (49%) and over two thirds of overseas migrants to Scotland (69%) in 2008-9 were aged between 16 and 34 ( IPS/ NHSCR based figures in GROS 2009 mid year estimates), compared to around a quarter of the Scottish population as a whole. The age profile of migrants was similar for men and women. Only 5% of migrants from the UK and one per cent from overseas are 65 or over. Figures for the Workers Registration Scheme suggest that the tendency for migrants to be young is even more pronounced for those from the A8 countries, with 81% of registered workers falling in the 18-34 age group ( UK level figures reported in the UKBA (2009) Accession Monitoring Report).

6.13 GROS figures ( IPS/ NHSCR based figures in GROS, 2009) indicate an even split between male and female in-migrants from overseas, and slightly more female than male in-migrants from elsewhere in the UK42. For A8 workers, slightly more men than women have registered (56:44), although recent quarterly figures show an even 50:50 split between male and female applicants (reported in UKBA (2009) Accession Monitoring Report).

6.14 In terms of marital status, the UK Long Term International Migration ( LTIM) 43 figures for 2008 indicate that almost two thirds of migrants to Scotland (61%) were single. Just over a third (34%) were married while the remainder were divorced or widowed.

6.15 The LTIM 2007 figures for the UK show that the main reasons for migration to the UK are work or study. Of those giving a reason, 40% had a job or were looking for a job, and 32% were coming to the UK for study purposes. While 16% were migrating to accompany or join a family member, work or study was likely to be the reason for the majority of the original migrants.

6.16 Scottish based research by Pires and McLeod (2006) reflects this UK situation. They found the main reasons for migration to Scotland to be economic (employment or study) rather than "lifestyle". Lifestyle, though, was a bigger factor for migrants from elsewhere in the UK. They also found overseas migrants to be attracted to the UK as a whole rather than Scotland in particular.

6.17 Labour Force Survey figures for 2008 show that migrant workers make up 6.7% of the workforce in Scotland. The figures indicate a slightly lower employment rate amongst those born outwith the UK compared to those born in Scotland (71% compared to 76%); migrants coming to Scotland to study may account for some of this difference. Data from the same survey indicates that those born outwith the UK are spread across all employment sectors and occupational groups. However, they are particularly over-represented in the distribution and hotel and restaurant sectors, and particularly under-represented in the public administration, education and health sector. In terms of occupational group, non UK-born workers tend to be overrepresented at one end of the spectrum amongst professional occupations and the other end amongst elementary occupations; and are under-represented amongst administrative and secretarial workers. 44

6.18 Locally based research work in Scotland (much of which has focused on specific, often rural areas with a high concentration of A8 workers) suggests that the majority of overseas migrants in employment are in semi-skilled and unskilled work (de Lima et al; SER, Metcalf et al, all cited in Rolfe and Metcalfe, 2009), although they often have relatively high levels of qualifications; for example, a 2006 study of migrants in Tayside ( SER, 2006) found nearly 60% of migrant workers to have a university degree and a further 16% to have a trade or professional qualification. These findings relating to qualifications fit with figures reported for the UK ( LTIM, 2008) which indicate that two thirds of adult migrants to the UK were in professional or managerial positions or were students before moving to the UK.

6.19 The Scottish research cited in Rolfe and Metcalf (2008) reported the majority of (often A8) migrants to be in full-time employment (although often on temporary contracts) often in jobs characterised by long hours, low pay and low skill levels. The majority were concentrated in a small number of sectors: hospitality and catering; food processing; construction; agriculture. In relation to A8 migrants, specifically, the WRS gives the top employment sectors for Scotland as: hospitality and catering, administration, business and management 45, agriculture, and food, fish and meat processing (cumulative to March 2009). There was, though, some local evidence reported (in, again, Rolfe and Metcalf) of migrants beginning to move into work more appropriate to their skills and experience. Barriers to appropriate employment (cited in Rolfe and Metcalf) included language skills and "transferability" of qualifications.

6.20 LTIM figures for 2008 for the UK as a whole indicate that most migrants (of those who stated an intention) intend staying for one to 2 years (49%); a fifth intend staying for 3 to 4 years, and a third (31%) intend staying for more than 4 years. In their research on people who relocate to Scotland, Pires and McLeod (2006) report most migrants to be flexible in their intentions and not committed to staying in Scotland. Rolfe and Metcalf (2008), however, cite a number of local Scottish studies indicating that most A8 migrants in particular planned to stay in Scotland but were unsure for how long. Pires and McLeod report positive work experience and improved lifestyle as important factors in encouraging people to stay in Scotland. However, lifestyle itself was not enough on its own to make people settle. Rolfe and Metcalfe's review reported some evidence of migrants beginning to move into work more appropriate to their skills and experience with a view to moving families over to Scotland and settling on a longer term basis; they also reported a number of studies noting access to social housing as a factor in the decision to settle in Scotland.

6.21 There is some evidence that migrant experiences in Scotland are generally positive (eg, Pires and McLeod). At the national level, Scottish Social Attitudes Survey data (cited in Rolfe and Metcalf) indicate that people in Scotland are more welcoming and have more positive attitudes towards migrants than people in other parts of the UK; however there are more mixed results in relation to some local studies (Glasgow and Fife) which report some hostility towards migrants, including perceived threats to jobs (in Rolfe and Metcalf). In addition to this, local studies with migrants themselves report some negative experiences (racism etc), and isolation and lack of integration were common complaints for those in rural areas in particular. The experience of migrants in rural areas has been reported to be different to those elsewhere; for example, there were difficulties in accessing affordable housing and other services, and the limited provision of English language training was noted as a particular issue (studies cited in Rolfe and Metcalf).

Characteristics of migrants leaving Scotland

6.22 GROS 2009 mid year estimates show that 66,500 people left Scotland in 2008-9. However, information on the characteristics of those leaving Scotland (or the UK) is limited, although GROS and ONS ( LTIM) provide some data in this area.

6.23 On the personal characteristics of emigrants, GROS 2009 mid year estimates report that 62% of those leaving Scotland went to one of the other UK countries. Those going beyond the UK were split fairly evenly between those going to the EU and those going elsewhere ( LTIM 2008). Like immigrants to Scotland, the majority of those leaving are between 16 and 34, proportionately younger than the resident population ( GROS, 2009). GROS figures ( GROS, 2009) indicate an even split (49:51) between male and female out-migrants from Scotland. The UKLTIM figures for 2008 indicate that over half (58%) of all adult out-migrants were single, slightly over a third (38%) were married, and the remaining 5% were divorced or widowed.

6.24 LTIM 2008 figures for the UK show that the main reason for migration from the UK was work, with 40% having secured a job and a further 24% intending to look for work. In contrast to in-migrants, only 7% were leaving to study. In relation to employment, LTIM data for 2008 indicates the occupations of those leaving the country (adults only) immediately prior to their migration. Those in professional and managerial roles accounted for 38%, a further 38% were in manual or clerical occupations, and just over a fifth (21%) were students.

6.25 Figures for the UK as a whole ( LTIM 2008) indicate that most (62%) of those leaving the UK (of those who stated an intention) intended doing so for at least 4 years. In comparison to those coming to the UK, emigration seems more commonly to be a longer term arrangement.

Student/graduate migration

6.26 In 2008-9, around 24% of HEI students in Scotland were non-Scottish domiciled (based on residence in the 3 years prior to commencing studies). In relation to Scotland- UK student migration, Scotland continues to be a net importer of students. While 12,600 students domiciled in Scotland were studying elsewhere in the UK, 27,700 students from the rest of the UK were studying at Scottish HEIs. For overseas students, the most common countries of origin were India, China and the USA (from Scottish Government (2010) Students in Higher Education at Scottish Institutions 2008-9).

6.27 In relation to graduate migration, Bond's research (2007) into Scottish graduate migration and retention at UK level reports 2001 census figures indicating a net loss of 4,300 degree-educated people to elsewhere in the UK in the previous year. Bond reported 90% of all Scottish domiciled graduates to be working in Scotland 6 months after graduation, compared to 34% of graduates from elsewhere in the UK and 22% from other EU countries. Bond's survey focusing on Edinburgh University graduates found that 70% of respondents who had originated in Scotland were living there 5 years after graduation, compared to 21% who had come to Scotland from elsewhere to study (included in these figures are those who had moved away from Scotland and returned within the 5-year period). The fact that the majority of those who come to Scotland to study leave after graduation suggests that there is scope to improve graduate retention amongst this group. The research reported that some of those leaving Scotland after graduation do so with the intention of returning. As with other research, key factors for those returning were employment opportunities and families and relationships. Views on the preferred environment for bringing up children were also mentioned by some.

6.28 The Fresh Talent: Working In Scotland Scheme ( FT: WISS) which ran from 2005 to 2008 gave overseas students in Scotland the opportunity to enter the labour market (without the need for a work permit) for up to 2 years following completion of their studies, with almost 8,500 taking part in the scheme during its lifetime. A 2008 review found that FT: WISS was generally seen in a positive light by participants, and had been used by HEIs to promote Scotland as a place to study. However, there was some frustration reported amongst graduate participants at the type of work they were able to secure. Although it was not clear how many overseas students had been attracted to Scotland because of the Scheme, the review reported qualitative evidence from research in both the US and China that FT: WISS was a major factor in attracting students to Scotland, and noted an increase of over 3,000 overseas students coming to Scotland from 2005-6 to 2006-7 (with subsequent figures showing no further increase to 2007-8). FT: WISS came to an end and the Tier 1 Post Study Work category was introduced within the UK points based migration system in 2008. Since then, more than 4,800 Scotland based students have stayed on following graduation on Post Study Work.

The Scottish diaspora

6.29 Scotland has, until recently, been a country of net out-migration. Work by Carr and Cavanagh (2009) estimates that over a million people born in Scotland are currently living outside Scotland 46. This figure equates to around a fifth of the current Scottish population. The majority, almost 800,000, live in England (in addition there are over 50,000 Scots-born people living elsewhere in the UK). Around 80% of people born in Scotland are currently living in Scotland; this situation is significantly different from the situation for the UK as a whole which has 94% of those born there still resident. For the countries considered in Carr and Cavanagh's research, Scotland had one of the most concentrated diasporas, with the 5 most common destinations (England, Australia, US, Canada and New Zealand) accounting for over 90% of Scottish emigrants.

The same research uses census data to examine the "reverse diaspora" living in Scotland (ie, those living in Scotland who were born elsewhere), and reports that almost 13% of those living in Scotland in 2001 were born elsewhere; those born in England accounted for 8%.

Migration between Scotland and England

6.30 England is by far the most significant source of migrants to Scotland and destination for migrants leaving Scotland. Nearly 800,000 people in England were born in Scotland, while about 400,000 of those in Scotland were born in England (Carr and Cavanagh, 2009). Migrants moving between the 2 UK countries have somewhat different characteristics and experiences to other migrant groups. Research into English migrants to Scotland shows this group tend to have advanced qualifications and relatively high occupational status (Findlay & Stockdale, 2007) in relation to the general Scottish population, with the majority moving to Scottish cities. Pires and McLeod (2006) reported that, like other migrants, economic reasons were most significant for those moving from elsewhere in the UK, but lifestyle factors were found to play a bigger role in their decision regarding moving to Scotland.

6.31 Findlay's 2007 work examined Scots' migration to the South East of England in particular. Again, employment was the most common reason for migration, and significant numbers moved for career progression or achieved it once working in the area. The research concluded that, while the South East was an "escalator region" for all who work there, Scots did particularly well as a result of this phenomenon, both in comparison to Scots who stayed at home and to residents of the South East who were born in the area. Return migration was also a feature, with those returning to Scotland being mainly young, university educated people. Labour market uncertainties were found to be a key reason for returning to Scotland, but the chance of returning was increased when this was combined with a job opportunity and family pressures. The desire for children to grow up in Scotland also appeared to be a factor for some in decisions relating to return migration.

6.32 Although significant numbers of Scots migrate to the South East of England, the reverse is also true, and GROS figures show that Scotland has in fact made net gains in relation to Scotland- SE migration in recent years.

Internal migration within Scotland

6.33 Those moving around Scotland also contribute to the overall migration picture. This group includes migrants to Scotland making a further move following their original entry to the country. GROS 2009 mid year estimates show that those authorities attracting the highest numbers from elsewhere in Scotland were Glasgow and Edinburgh followed by South Lanarkshire, Aberdeen City and Fife. The same areas also lost the highest numbers of people. The big cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen experienced the biggest net losses of people, while the biggest net gainers were South Lanarkshire, Aberdeenshire and Midlothian.

Current policy issues in relation to migration

6.34 Increased net in-migration is the only option for achieving short term population growth and progress towards the population target. Although recent trends in migration have been positive, maintaining these flows by continuing to attract and retain migrants, and retaining the Scots-born population, may prove to be challenging, particularly given current economic conditions. The Scottish Government's objectives in relation to managed migration differ from those of the UK as a whole, reflecting the different demographic patterns and economies of the UK countries, with Scotland keen to retain the Scots-born population and actively attract new (and return) migrants to the country. Current issues relate to how this might be achieved through policy levers available directly to the Scottish Government, as well as through influencing immigration policy at a UK level.

Current policy activity in relation to migration

6.35 Immigration policy is a reserved matter, although there are some policy levers available at a devolved level. At a strategic level Scotland has pursued several policy strands to date in this area, all designed to promote Scotland to potential migrants:

  • Narrative of economic opportunity: This is intended to promote Scotland to high-value migrants, raising awareness of the economic opportunities and other benefits available in Scotland, and influencing attitudes towards Scotland as a place to live, work and learn.
  • The Diaspora Plan: Linked to the narrative of success, this plan is aimed at Scots living elsewhere and non-Scots with experience of living in Scotland with a view to attracting them back to Scotland to live and work.
  • Relocation Advisory Service: This service was established in 2004 to offer practical support and advice on a wide range of issues to those wishing to come to Scotland to live and work.
  • FT: WISS: This scheme was designed to attract skilled labour to Scotland by offering graduates the opportunity to remain in Scotland to work for 2 years following completion of their studies. This came to an end in 2008, and the Scottish Government now actively promotes its successor, the Post Study Work migration route, via the UK migration system.

6.36 In relation to UK policy, the Scottish Government has continued to negotiate with the Home Office in relation to achieving Scottish flexibilities within the migration points system (eg, awarding additional points for those wishing to come to Scotland) to allow greater numbers of migrants to come to Scotland.

6.37 At a practical level there may be further scope for policy activity to address some of the identified barriers to settlement and integration in relation to, for example, facilitating access to services including housing and English language training, assisting people in obtaining suitable employment and recognition of overseas qualifications.

Current/future evidence requirements relating to migration

6.38 Unlike many other countries, the UK does not have comprehensive central records on in- and out-migration. International migration statistics are largely based on the International Passenger Survey which draws on a sample of passengers entering/leaving the UK at airports and sea ports. The method has a number of drawbacks. Only those coming to the UK for more than 12 months are classed as migrants, so short term seasonal workers are not included in the resulting figures. The sample used is small, particularly in Scotland where only about 200 people are included, limiting scope for reliable analysis. The system is based on intentions which may or may not be realised. The IPS data is supplemented by LFS data and NHS data to provide estimates of movement of migrants within the country. Estimates of internal migration (within Scotland or between the UK countries) are based on NHS records. However, work is continuing at ONS and GROS to improve migration statistics in order to provide a more accurate picture of in- and out-migration 47.

6.39 More robust data on the views and experiences of migrants in Scotland would be a useful contribution to the evidence base; much of the currently available information comes from small scale local level studies. Improved information on the motivations of migrants, in particular, would assist in fine-tuning policy efforts in attracting migrants to Scotland 48. Information on those leaving Scotland in particular is very limited. More information on their views and experiences could support policy thinking relating to retention (of the Scots-born population and the migrant population).

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