Migration in Scotland

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Co-financed by the European Fund for the Integration of Third Country Nationals

2. Migration in Scotland

2.2 The Scottish context

Migration is the key driver for population growth for Scotland. Scotland as a whole is facing a significant demographic challenge. We have an ageing population, and the proportion of older people is increasing quickly. As the population ages, pressures on public services will increase, but there will be fewer people of working age to fund these services, and to provide them.

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A great deal of work is being undertaken by the Scottish Government, local authorities and their community planning partners, to cope with an ageing population. Wider policy context is available in the following documents:

The Scottish Government also has a population target of matching average European population growth between 2007 and 2017.

In Scotland, there are 370,000 migrants.  This is seven per cent of the whole population.  These figures are from the 2011 Census, the last full Census of people in Scotland.  For this purpose, migrants are described as people who were born outside the UK.

The most common countries of birth outside of the UK for people resident in Scotland, in 2011, were (in descending order of migrant population size) Poland, India, Republic of Ireland, Germany, Pakistan, United States, China, South Africa, Nigeria, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, France, Italy and Spain.

Profile of migrants in Scotland
  • There were 370,000 migrants in Scotland at the time of the 2011 Census.
  • Two thirds had arrived between 2001 and 2011.
  • Half had come from within the European Economic Area, and half from outwith. 
  • The number of migrants from within the European Economic Area in Scotland more than doubled between 2001 and 2011.
  • An increasing proportion of migrants in Scotland are of working age.
  • The majority of migrants aged 16 to 74 are economically active, with 62 per cent currently employed or self-employed. The majority work full time, and 12 per cent reported working long hours, of 49 or more hours a week. 
  • Of inactive migrants the majority were students, who make up just under a third of all recent non-EEA migrants.
Find out more...
The Scottish Government has produced a report analysing the 2011 Census results for migrants in Scotland.
We have produced other analysis of migration to Scotland, including analysis of economic migrants in 2013/14.
The Centre for Population Change has a series of useful Working Papers and Briefing Papers which include some relevant research.

Video clips

Hear about some people’s experiences of arriving in Scotland here:

Petra’s experience of arriving in Scotland:


Eman’s experience of arriving in Scotland:


Edyta’s experience of arriving in Scotland: