NIESR Briefing: Overview of evidence on UK public attitudes to immigration

Pub. Date
19 August, 2019
Pub. Type


As part of a research report on UK Public Attitudes to Immigration, published by NIESR and Birkbeck, University of London, in October 2018, we reviewed the existing literature on the topic. We have updated this with the most recent evidence thanks to the support of the ESRC through its Impact Acceleration Award. The following topics are covered in the briefing:

  • How attitudes have developed over time, and how attitudes are divided
  • What drives immigration attitudes: Economic or cultural factors
  • How misperceptions and lack of knowledge affect attitudes
  • Attitudes towards different types of immigrants 


  • British people seem to have become more positive about the economic and cultural impacts of immigration, especially since the Brexit referendum, but they still want to see immigration levels reduced.
  • Most evidence shows that Britain is highly divided on immigration, and these divisions are growing. People are divided by age, education and social class.
  • People’s attitudes are likely driven by both economic and cultural factors, but political scientists continue to debate which is more important.
  • Many are highly misinformed about immigration. People who lack knowledge about immigration tend to view it more negatively. There is still mixed and inconclusive evidence on whether providing information about migration changes attitudes and policy preferences.
  • People prefer some migrants over others. In particular, this varies by skill-level and perceptions of economic contribution, and there is an ‘ethnic hierarchy’ based on ethnicity, country of origin, religion and language.

Read the full Briefing Note in attachment