The importance of the London factor in overseas worker numbers

For many people arriving from overseas, London is the first choice as the place to settle and find work. The most recent full year figures for non-UK citizens registering for a National Insurance number show that 334,000 of the 820,000 are in London. That’s just over 40%.

But looking at the detailed breakdown for nationality groups and the historic patterns show that some nationalities are more London-centric than others.

The biggest new factor in the data for 2014/15 is the rise in the number from Romania and Bulgaria, the so-called A2 European countries. They joined the EU in 2007 but restrictions were placed upon free movement to the UK until the start of 2014.

Anyone seeking to work or claim benefits in the UK needs a National Insurance number, and in the first full year of access to the UK 152,00 Romanians and 40,000 Bulgarians applied.

66,000 Romanians chose London as their base. That is 44%. The South East was the second most popular choice.

NI Romanians UK

About the same proportion of Bulgarians decided upon the capital. The South East, East and West Midlands are other favourite locations, as they are with Romanians.

NI Bulgarians UK

The biggest group of overseas workers in the UK is from Poland. Poland joined the EU in 2004 as one of the so-called A8 countries of Eastern Europe. But the pattern of NI registrations by Poles shows they are far less focused on London. In 2004/05 when free access began 61,000 came but a little less than a third settled in London.  Numbers went up in the following years, but the rate fell and currently stands at 21%.

The other growing group of arrivals in the London labour market is Southern Europeans. In 2014/15 35,000 Italians registered for NI in London. That’s 60% of the total for the UK. And a pattern of London largely favoured over over the rest of the UK  can be seen over the past 10 years.

Since the economic crisis of 2008 the numbers of workers from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece have risen. Italy and Spain have traditionally been first choice labour markets for Romanians, so their numbers arriving in the UK may be linked to the poor economic situation in Southern Europe.

Data for the next few years will reveal whether Romanians and Bulgarians will follow the A8 pattern with significant numbers working in locations across the UK or if they will remain more  London-centric like Southern Europeans.

Source data

See also

What National Insurance really tells us about London’s overseas workforce

Where in the world would you like to work?