Policy Description

Migration Policies: United Kingdom (2015)




United Kingdom




The UK Government has limited scope to restrict the entry of nationals from the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA). After the opening of its employment market with no restrictions for citizens from the new EU Member States in 2004, transitional restrictions were applied to Bulgarian, Romanian, and Croatian workers’ free movement and employment rights in 2007 and 2013. In 2010, the Government specified that it would impose transitional controls on any new EU members in the future; it also introduced new restrictions on EU migrants regarding access to welfare benefits to address perceived ‘pull factors’ for EU migration to the UK (Gower 2015b).

The government has aimed to reduce net migration since 2010 and several policy changes have been introduced to limit immigration of non-EU nationals in one of the three main categories: work, study, and family. Eligibility criteria to enter the UK for work have become more selective for non-EU nationals. In 2011, a cap of 20,700 was introduced for employer-sponsored skilled migration and the minimum skills and language requirements were increased. Two immigration routes were closed which previously allowed skilled migrants and former international students to work in the UK without a specific job offer. However, new visas were introduced to admit graduate entrepreneurs and individuals with “exceptional” talents in the fields of science, academia, the arts, or digital technology[1] (Home Office 2012, HM Government 2015b). From 2012, British nationals applying to bring a non-EU national partner to the UK are required to have a minimum annual income of £18,600, up from a post-tax income of £5,500 before 2012. The required amount increases to £22,400 if they want to bring one child, and each extra child adds a further £2,400 to the requirement (Gower 2015a). The new measures also reduced the permitted working hours for international students, raised language requirements for students at further education colleges, and limited international students’ right to bring family members to the UK (Home Office 2012). It also became more difficult for former international students to remain in the UK following their studies without a specific job offer (Gower 2015b). Moreover, education providers have been subjected to more demanding requirements, for example, education providers sponsoring non-EU students were required to apply for ‘highly trusted sponsor’ status; to gain this status, providers must meet criteria that include a high rate of students completing courses (85 % or more) and low rates of students having their visas refused (less than 10 %) (Home Office 2015b; Gower 2015b).  

In 2013, an Asylum Operating Model was launched to improve the consistency and speed of asylum decision-making. The Immigration Act 2014 was intended to make it easier to remove people refused permission to stay in the UK by reducing the scope to appeal and simplifying and enforcing the removal process. The Act also aimed to create a more ‘hostile environment’ for people living in the UK without a valid immigration status (e.g. making it harder to rent accommodation, obtain a bank account, or a driving licence) (Gower 2015b).

Naturalisation policies

Children born in the UK to an individual who is either a British citizen or ‘settled’[2] in the UK automatically become British citizens at birth. Children born to non-British citizens do not get automatic citizenship. Individuals born outside of the UK are considered to be British citizens if, at the time of birth, either the mother or father is a British citizen (HM Government 2015). 

Individuals who are not British citizens by birth or descent, can gain British citizenship and the citizenship includes three main categories:

  • If the child lives in the UK for the first ten years of life with only limited periods of time outside of the country, he or she acquires British citizenship regardless of parents’ status.  
  • Migrants fulfilling the five-year residency requirement (individuals must have lived in the UK for five years, the last year of that as a permanent resident with Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR); not have been absent for more than 450 days in that period, not have been absent for more than 90 days in the 12 months before application, be of good character, pass the Life in the UK test, have sufficient knowledge of English, Welsh, or Gaelic, and have an intention to live in the UK). 
  • Spouses and civil partners of British citizens are required to have been in the UK for three years and have ILR on the date of application. Rules of intention to live in the UK, good conduct, language skills, and also Life in the UK test apply to spouses (HM Government 2015). 

The Life in the UK test was introduced in 2010 and in the same year English language requirements became more stringent. The application fee increased substantially from £200 in 2005 to just over £1,000 in 2015 (HM Government 2015a). The numbers of citizenships awarded continued to rise until 2013, however, it is possible that the increase would have been even steeper without the changes. Furthermore, the language and knowledge requirements may have deterred applications among nationals of poorer, less educated, and non-English-speaking countries (Ryan 2008). In 2013, a more difficult English language test was introduced. According to the Home Office (2015a) the number of approved citizenship applications peaked in 2013, which was an outcome of increasing numbers of applications in advance of the changes in the language requirement. The number of foreign citizens naturalised in 2014 declined by 40 % compared to 2013.

The majority of refusals to grant citizenship between 2002 and 2014 were due to failure to meet either the ‘good character’ requirement[3] or the residency requirement; failure to demonstrate language proficiency or knowledge of life in the UK comprised about 1 % of refusals in 2014. The ‘good character’ requirement accounted for 34 % of all refusals in 2014, increasing from about 10 % in the years immediately preceding legal amendments to this requirement in 2008, when the Home Office changed its interpretation of the good character clause, making it harder for people with past criminal convictions to obtain citizenship (The Migration Observatory 2015).


  • Gower, M. “The financial (minimum income) requirement for partner visas”. Commons Briefing papers SN06724. House of Commons Library. 2015a.
  • Gower, M. “Immigration and asylum: Changes made by the Coalition Government 2010 – 2015”. Commons Briefing papers SN05829. House of Commons Library. 2015b.
  • HM Government. “Citizenship and living in the UK”. 2015a. Available at:     https://www.gov.uk/browse/citizenship.
  • HM Government. “Visas and immigration”. 2015b. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration.
  • Home Office. “Statement of intent: Changes affecting study, post-study work and maintenance requirements for students and workers”. Home Office, London, 2012.
  • Home Office. “Immigration Statistics, October to December 2014”. Home Office, London, 2015a. 
  • Home Office. “Tier 4 of the points based system: Guidance for sponsors document 1: Applying for a Tier 4 licence”. Home Office, London, 2015b.
  • Ryan, B. “Integration requirements: A new model in migration law”. Journal of Immigration Asylum and Nationality Law 22(4) (2008): 303-316.
  • The Migration Observatory. “Naturalisation as British citizen: Concepts and trends”. 2015. Available at: http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/naturalisation-british-citizen-concepts-and-trends.   


  • [1] Individuals have to fulfil eligibility criteria to qualify under this route, e.g. they are considered eligible if they have already demonstrated potential to contribute significantly as a future leader in their field. A number of institutions in the UK (e.g. The British Academy, The Royal Society) are designated to advise Home Office in deciding whether an individual meets the criteria or not (based on www.gov.uk, accessed on 19/12/2015).  
  • [2] To have a ‘settled’ status an individual must be a resident in the UK and have the right of residence, or must hold Indefinite Leave to Remain, or must be the citizen of an EU/EEA country and have permanent residence, or must be otherwise unrestricted by immigration laws to remain in the UK.
  • [3] There is a list of requirements that individuals need to fulfil to meet the good character requirement, e.g. in general they need to abide by the law, and criminal and suspected criminal activities, non-custodial sentences, terrorism, and war crimes are taken into account. Financial affairs such as tax duties are also considered, as well as other activities which would illustrate any deception or dishonesty towards the Government. 


Ernestina Coast
London School of Economics and Political Science

Joanna Marczak
London School of Economics and Political Science

Wendy Sigle
London School of Economics and Political Science

Data collected in the framework of the Population Europe Research Finder and Archive (PERFAR) in 2015.

Please cite as:
SPLASH-db.eu (2015): Policy: "Migration Policies: United Kingdom" (Information provided by Ernestina Coast, Joanna Marczak & Wendy Sigle). Available at: https://splash-db.eu [Date of access].