Recently Boris Johnson, likely to be the next Prime Minister of the U.K. said he wants migrants to learn to speak English better. He ought to be pleased to hear that research from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University shows they actually speak English quite well. On top of that, migrants to the U.K. tend to be healthier than the native-born population.
The Migration Observatory has been looking into migrant integration in the U.K. There are many ways to measure this: language skills, involvement in community activities, political engagement, etc., and the point of the project is exactly that there is no one measure of integration, hence its long-term nature.
The first batch of research to be released shows two quite striking findings: migrants are generally healthier than the native population and speak English very well, with around half of foreign-born adults speaking English as a first language.
In particular, around 70% of people born in the EU-14 (the countries that joined the EU before 2004) and Sub-Saharan Africa reported speaking English as their main language, and in both cases the people that reported not using English as their main language overwhelmingly said they had no difficulties speaking it (only around 4% from both groups reported having difficulties speaking English).
Perhaps even more reassuring to the presumptive future leader of the U.K. is that the research found 88% of migrants who came to the U.K. before turning five spoke English as their main language at home in 2018, which is a very strong indicator of integration. A good example of this is that migrants who speak English at home tend to make more on average than those speaking something else (around $40,500 compared to $30,800).
When it comes to health, migrants are doing even better than the native Brits. According to the research, migrants were 15% less likely to report a long-term health condition than someone born in the U.K. (26% of foreigners versus 41% of native-born). This applies to mental health as well, with only 5% reporting such a condition versus 9% among those born in the U.K.
(It is worth pointing out the data on health comes from the 2017 Labour Force Survey, and relies on self-reporting so there is the possibility of misreporting.)
Previous studies comparing the health of migrants and non-migrantshave shown that the native-born residents generally have more health problems than those born abroad, and this research confirms this observation. One obvious reason for this “health advantage” among migrants is they tend to be younger, as over-65s generally don’t up sticks to a new country at the same rate as those in their 20s, but this only partially explains the discrepancy. For those aged 16 to 34, foreigners reporting long-term health problems were still 12% lower than those born in the U.K.
Another side to this is the relative health in the various regions sending migrants. The report notes that migrants from the newer EU countries as well as East and Southeast Asia have the least health problems, compared to Pakistan and neighboring South Asian regions (excluding India) which have a rate roughly similar to the U.K.
A final piece of the puzzle to be explored here comes from Mariña Fernández-Reino, the Migration Observatory researcher who analyzed the research: “People who decide to migrate are often healthier than those who stay behind, while those with health problems are more likely to return to their countries of origin.” Makes sense.
One thing to note on that health advantage, though: it tends to be most prominent among new arrivals (only 5% of those arriving in the last two years reported a long-term problem), and the research suggests the longer someone stays in the U.K. the worse their health becomes.
This last point in itself might be a kind of integration indicator, and shows that integration outcomes can be just as dependent on the host country as the individual, or as Mariña Fernández-Reino said: “How well migrants fare depends not just on who they are and what they do, but also the society and economy they are entering.”