The impacts of migrants and migration into Scotland

Aims to summarise and evaluate the recent literature on the impacts of migrants and migration into Scotland.

1. Introduction


Scotland, like many countries, is projected to experience a significant demographic shift over the next few decades, leading to an increase in the average age of the population. Since 2007, Scotland has had a population growth target: 'to match average European ( EU15) population growth over the period from 2007 to 2017, supported by increased healthy life expectancy in Scotland over this period.' [3]

The Scottish Government's Economic Strategy explicitly links population growth with economic growth. Scotland's approach to delivering sustainable economic growth is characterised by four key priorities, one of which is 'an international outlook and focus, open to trade, migration and new ideas' (2015a:10).

Scotland's population increased by more than 230,000 between the Censuses of 2001 and 2011. Although this was partly due to changes in birth and death rates, the key driver of demographic change has been migration. Between 2001 and 2011, the total number of people living in Scotland who were born outside Scotland (including the other parts of the UK) increased from 651,600 to 883,500. As a percentage of Scotland's total population, this was a change from less than 13 per cent to almost 17 per cent. Table 1.1 provides a breakdown of the population.

Table 1.1: Scotland's population in 2001 and 2011

Place of birth Number of people Percentage of Scotland's total population
2001 2011 2001 2011
Total born in Scotland 4,410,400 4,411,884 87.13 83.32
Total born in the rest of the UK 460,040 514,235 9.09 9.71
Total born outside the UK 191,571 369,284 3.78 6.97
Total Population 5,062,011 5,295,403 100 100

Source: Scotland's Census 2011 - NRS, Country of birth (detailed), all people; Scotland's Census 2001 - NRS, Reference Volume, Table CAS 015

Table 1.2 provides more detail about Scotland's migrant population:

  • The biggest change between 2001 and 2011 relates to the number of migrants who came to Scotland from the countries that acceded to the EU between April 2001 and March 2011, particularly Poland (approximately 55,000 people) [4] .
  • Other major changes included increases in the China-born population (more than 15,300 people born in China were living in Scotland in 2011, 12,000 more than in 2001) and migrants born in India (an increase from 10,500 to 23,500 between 2001 and 2011).

Table 1.2: The top 20 sources of migrants to Scotland 2001 and 2011

Country Migrants to Scotland 2001 Country Migrants to Scotland 2011
1 England 408,948 England 459,486
2 Northern Ireland 33,528 Poland 55,231
3 Republic of Ireland 21,774 Northern Ireland 36,655
4 Germany 18,703 India 23,489
5 Wales 16,623 Republic of Ireland 22,952
6 Pakistan 12,645 Germany 22,274
7 United States of America 11,149 Pakistan 20,039
8 India 10,523 Wales 17,381
9 Canada 8,569 United States of America 15,919
10 South Africa 7,803 China 15,338
11 Australia 7,555 South Africa 10,607
12 Hong Kong 7,068 Nigeria 9,458
13 Non- EU countries in W. Europe 4,943 Canada 9,435
14 Italy 4,936 Australia 8,279
15 France 4,850 Hong Kong 7,586
16 Other S. and E. Africa 4,246 France 7,147
17 Other Far East 4,221 Italy 6,048
18 New Zealand 3,413 Spain 4,908
19 China 3,329 Malaysia 4,721
20 Other Middle East 3,289 Zimbabwe 4,666
Total number of migrants from top 20 countries 598,115 761,619
Total born outside Scotland, including the rest of the UK 651,611 883,519

Source: Scotland's Census 2011, NRS, Country of birth (detailed), all people . Scotland's Census 2001, NRS, Table UV08, Country of Birth.

The Census 2011 also indicates that migrants are, predominantly, young. The youngest age profile at the time of the Census was Scotland's Polish population, with 85 per cent aged under 40.

Although migration policy is reserved to the UK Government, the Scottish Government has argued that Scotland's need for, and attitude to migration is distinct from other parts of the UK. Demographic stability and growth has been positioned as central to sustainable economic growth in Scotland, with migration the chief means through which this can be achieved in the short to medium term. In addition, the issue of migration has not been politicised north of the border to the same extent as it has in the rest of the UK (McCollum et al, 2014:80).

Scotland saw, proportionally, a greater increase in its migrant population than any of the other nations of the UK between 2001 and 2011. However, Scotland's migrant population remains relatively small and its population density low in comparison with many other parts of the UK (Blinder, 2014:2).

The narratives around the issue of migration developed by the Scottish and UK Governments have become increasingly distinct over the last few years. In the 2013 white paper Scotland's Future, the Scottish Government stated that 'Scotland has a different need for immigration than other parts of the UK' (2013:267) and that 'the current UK immigration system has not supported Scotland's migration priorities' ( ibid:268). However, since 2010, the UK Government has adopted increasingly restrictive immigration policies which it cites as 'economically and socially necessary'. [5] Therefore, Scotland is significantly constrained in the migration policies that it is able to implement under the current constitutional settlement.

It is also worth noting that, in Scotland, the narrative about the benefits of migration focuses exclusively on population growth. It does not highlight the importance of migration for addressing skills and occupational shortages, or the idea of human capital as a driver of productivity and growth. Reports from OECD exemplify the broader labour market oriented approach. For example, the policy brief 'Matching economic migration with labour market needs in Europe,' September 2014, emphasises the importance of policies and practices to make sure that economic migration and free movement contribute to meeting labour market shortages, and ensuring a better use of the skills, both of migrants and their children raised in the destination country.

The evidence review

The aim of this review is to summarise and evaluate the recent literature on the impacts that migrants and migration have had on Scotland. The review also examines the scope, scale and quality of the existing evidence and identifies gaps in the evidence base.

The review focuses on the impacts that migrants and migration have had on Scotland's economy, labour market, public services, communities and culture. Where possible, it also explores ways in which the impacts of migrants and migration have been experienced differently in Scotland from the rest of the UK. The intention is to consider both the short and longer term impacts of migration.

The review includes economic migrants, students, those who accompany or join family members, and (where possible) undocumented migrants. It does not include refugees or asylum seekers, or second or third generation migrants, except where people in these groups are not distinguishable from other categories of migrant. The focus is on all migrants to Scotland, including migrants from the rest of the UK (see 'Definitions' section below).

The intention is to update and extend the scope of an earlier review of the evidence base commissioned by the Scottish Government (Rolfe and Metcalf, 2009). For this reason, the Rolfe and Metcalf work is referenced throughout this report. However, there are differences between the remit of the two reviews. Rolfe and Metcalf were asked to focus specifically on migrants from the EU accession countries, and to examine the impacts of recent migration on employment and public services, without a broader focus on economic affairs. Their review also assessed data sources on migrant stocks and flows, following consultation with Scottish local authorities and other key stakeholders. This is beyond the scope of the present review.

In a 2010 report on the extent and impact of migration in Scotland, the Scottish Parliament Equal Opportunities Committee commended the 2009 research and noted that it highlighted the positive impacts made by migrants in Scotland. It noted, however, that 'few studies have assessed the impact of migration on services which means that any additional costs that arise are largely unknown. The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government should undertake further research in this regard' (2010, para 131). This review is intended to go some way towards addressing these matters.


This report has been produced by the Scottish Government's Strategic Analysis Team. The original literature search was conducted by researchers at Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network ( GRAMNet). To ensure the quality of evidence included in the review, the focus of the GRAMNet search was on papers published in peer reviewed academic journals. Search terms used by GRAMNet, and developed through their understanding of the scope and broad themes of the research, were supplemented and refined as the review developed, and were used to search a range of established and scientifically recognised online databases (see Annex 2).

The initial scoping phase of the GRAMNet study indicated that the evidence base was substantial, so a set of inclusion and exclusion criteria was agreed with Scottish Government officials and applied in order to focus on evidence of the impacts of migration likely to be most useful for policy development. However, detailed examination of those papers that satisfied the agreed criteria made it clear that Scotland-specific evidence relates mainly to migrant experiences. Impacts are difficult to assess from the findings reported, or the focus of research is on impacts on migrants themselves, rather than impacts on Scotland as a receiving country.

In the second scoping phase, Scottish Government analysts revisited the annotated bibliography produced by GRAMNet, and conducted further assessment of the papers, to ensure a refined focus on migration impacts. A supplementary literature search was then undertaken, using Web of Science and Google Scholar, and additional studies were accessed via the reference sections of relevant papers.

Although the peer review process is the gold standard for publication in academic journals, the second search made it clear that, to assess the evidence on migration impacts, it would be necessary to look across a wider range of publications. This included the publications of organisations specifically dedicated to migration research (and those academics writing for them), along with relevant Government publications. Most of these papers will not have been subjected to a formal peer review process; however, they may be early versions of papers for academic journals and/or use material published in peer reviewed journals. In one or two instances, the review also includes papers which, although less robust, offer useful contributions to the debate. Appropriate caveats are highlighted in relation to the interpretation of these data sources.

One advantage of looking beyond peer reviewed literature is that there is likely to be a substantial time lag between the research process, writing up, review and publication. Including work with a faster turnaround time allows this review to be as up to date as possible. However, it is also important to acknowledge that work that has not been subject to the peer review process is likely to have more limitations and may be less impartial in content.

The review did not consider unpublished papers or work in progress.

The reference section lists all papers included in the review. Footnotes throughout the review relate to clarification of issues and links to supplementary sources of information.


When counting migrants and analysing the consequences of migration, it is important to determine who is and is not a migrant. There is no consensus on a single definition of a 'migrant.' Some of the considerations, the different definitions used in analyses of different datasets, and the consequences of differences in definitions are explored in a Migration Observatory paper by Anderson and Blinder (2015). The authors note that differences in definitions may translate into different estimates of migration stocks and flows, as well as the impacts of migration (2015:6-7). However, while acknowledging the complexity of definitional issues, it is beyond the remit of this report to investigate the topic any further.

The starting point for this review is the United Nations definition [6] of a migrant as a ' person who moves to a country other than that of his or her usual residence for a period of at least a year so that the country of destination effectively becomes his or her new country of usual residence.' The review interprets the 'country other than the country of usual residence' as being Scotland, not Britain, or the rest of the UK. This means that, for the purposes of this review, people from other parts of the UK are also included as migrants. [7]

Focusing only on migrants resident in Scotland for longer than a year could miss important aspects of the impacts of migration, including temporary and circular migration, which are of particular relevance to some Scottish regions and economic sectors. For this reason, the UN definition was relaxed to some extent during the literature search although, in practice, it was often not possible to tell whether the focus of papers was on migrants of more or less than a year's duration of stay.

Studies use the terms 'migrants,' 'immigrants' and 'in-migrants.' For consistency, the term 'migrant' is used throughout this review, except in the titles of papers which use different terms, and direct quotes from those papers. The term 'migrants' includes different groups in different studies: this is highlighted where it is possible to make such distinctions.

It has not been possible to interpret definitional issues lying behind the data sources used by individual studies (for example whether migrants are defined as 'foreign-born' or 'foreign-national').

The review uses 'Scotland-born' or ' UK-born' rather than 'native' or 'native-born' although, as above, direct quotes and titles of papers have not been altered.

Studies refer to EEA, EU, EU15, A8, A10, A2 migrants, terms which overlap. Annex 1 gives a full list of definitions, but terms are used in the review as they have been in individual papers. This may lead to some differences when interpreting findings; where possible, these are highlighted.

Structure of the report

Chapter 2 provides an overview of the evidence base, the key studies that form its backbone, methodologies, migrant groups and an indication of the evidence in relation to each key impact area.

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 investigate the evidence on Economic Impacts, Public Service Impacts and Migrant Integration and Culture. At the beginning of each chapter section, key findings are summarised in a shaded box.

Chapter 6 includes a short discussion section and highlights gaps in the evidence base.


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