Brexit backlash may have damaged the UK’s reputation for cosmopolitanism, with the referendum result blamed in some quarters on an anti-immigration agenda, but surprisingly, it is Britain that leads the way when it comes to migrating overseas, according to data from the World Economic forum.
More than 4.9m Brits are living abroad, according to the WEF; more than any other EU nation. There is a subtle difference, however, as many UK citizens settle outside the EU, favouring Australia, New Zealand, the US and elsewhere.
Within the EU, the British favour Spain, where more than 300,000 expat Brits call home, followed by Ireland, more than 250,000, France, 175,000 and Germany, 100,000, with Italy the fifth most popular destination with a little over 50,000 UK citizens calling the Mediterranean country home.
For more than a million British expats across the EU, the future post-Brexit must feel uncertain. Many Brits may be eligible for residency in their chosen countries, typically if they spend more than 6 months per year in their adopted country, are retired or gainfully employed, own property, and have lived there for more than 5 years. Although similar, the rules vary from country to country – will Brexit cause the rules to be re-written, or will EU countries find a way to maintain the status quo? Much will depend on the deal that the government negotiates with EU representatives. A No Deal Brexit, for example, may not work in ex-pats favour.
Amongst EU countries, WEF data shows that Poland, with almost 3.5 million citizens living in other EU countries, has the biggest diaspora, closely followed by Romania, with a little under 3m. After that, there is a large drop in numbers to Germany, which has some 1.75m citizens living elsewhere in the EU, and Italy, with around 1.5m. The UK is next – its 1m+ EU based expats is nearly 3 times less than Poland, whose 4.4m overseas citizens tend to favour other EU countries.
Last year, a PEW research study polled seven European countries and the US about their attitudes to immigration. Germany provided the most favourable responses, with some 66% of respondents believing that immigrants “make our country stronger because of their work and talents, whilst only 29% claimed that immigrants “are a burden on our country because they take our jobs and social benefits.
The UK was also welcoming, with the split 52% pro-immigration versus 37% against. The majority of French, and ironically, Polish respondents were against immigration, with Poland, Greece and Italy all strongly against, in Greece and Italy’s case, just 19% of respondents were in favour of immigrants.
Of course, the experience of every country is different, and Italy and Greece, for example, have been forced to bear the brunt of the migrant crisis, with millions of migrants attempting to enter their country every year, which may have led to the negative response to immigration.
The US, which is home to more immigrants – more than 40 million – than anywhere else in the world, was, on balance, pro-immigration, with the survey showing a 52/41 split in favour.
Immigration is an emotive subject and the eyes of the world will be on the UK and EU to see what kind of policies the UK introduces when it leaves the EU, provisionally in March next year.
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