More about Foreigners…

This post follows up last week’s one on attitudes to minority groups. As I discussed there, one thing we found in this year’s Welsh Election Study was evidence of significant negative sentiment in Wales to some minority groups, in particular refugees and migrants from eastern Europe.

When planning the content of the 2016 Welsh Election Study surveys, we couldn’t then know what our questions about attitudes to minority groups would find. We did, though, already know from lots of other evidence that there was considerable public concern in Wales about immigration, and that it was likely to be a significant issue in the Welsh Assembly election – despite the Assembly having no competence over such matters.

There were various ways in which we could, and did, seek to explore the issue of migration. One of them, which occurred to us while planning the surveys, was to explore the question of who is considered to be an immigrant. We know that the official net migration statistics include some people who many might not categorise as ‘immigrants’ (such as UK citizens returning to live in the UK after some time abroad); they might also not include some who various people might think of as immigrants. We thought this area might be interesting to have a look at.

So we asked the following question in our pre-election survey:


“People often talk about immigrants and immigration. Which of the following types of people would you classify as ‘immigrants’? (please select all that apply)”


We then offered all respondents the following options:

  • People who come to live in Wales as refugees from conflict zones like Syria
  • People from Poland who come to live in Wales
  • People from Ireland who come to live in Wales
  • People from England who come to live in Wales
  • People from outside the UK who come here to study for a few months on a student exchange scheme
  • People from outside the UK who come here to study for a 3-4 year long course
  • People from outside the UK who visit here as tourists for 3-4 weeks
  • People from the UK who return home after living abroad for some years


You’ll notice that the first four of these options all refer to Wales, and the latter four to the UK. We chose the ‘Wales’ format for the first four options to allow us to explore the issue of ‘internal migration’ within the UK – and contrast attitudes to people coming to Wales from England with attitudes to people from elsewhere. The latter four options all relate to different categories of people who might, or might not, be categorised as immigrants to the UK depending on how the rules are defined; we were interested in how a representative sample of the population saw these things.

So what did we find? The table below shows the percentage of our overall sample who did categorise each group as immigrants, as well as the percentage of the sample who selected an option for ‘None of these’.


Group % Immigrants
Refugees 74%
People from Poland 67%
People from Ireland 25%
People from England 10%
Exchange Students 6%
3-4 Year Students 14%
Tourists 3%
Returners to the UK 3%
None of these 14%


It is hardly surprising that substantial majorities of respondents chose the first two categories as ‘immigrants’. Indeed, what is perhaps a surprise is that between a quarter and a third of respondents did not choose one or both of these categories. However, the ‘select all that apply’ question format does perhaps mean that some respondents skip some possible answers.

A much lower proportion of our sample indicated that they saw people from Ireland as immigrants. This perhaps fits with the rather ambiguous status long accorded to Ireland by the UK, and also the long-standing presence of substantial communities of Irish background within Britain, including in Wales. Far fewer again indicated that they saw people from England coming to Wales as immigrants – but still, one in ten respondents did so.

For our final four categories it is, I think, mainly interesting how few people categorise them as ‘immigrants’. Universities have been campaigning for some time for students not to be included in net migration figures, and the evidence here indicates that much of the public may be on their side.

Finally, we might note that fully 14% of respondents actively chose the ‘None of these’ option. (This was something that the respondents actively had to choose; it does not indicate the proportion who simply failed to tick any box). This is a little puzzling, and I will explore it further. It may be that there are some respondents who have very liberal views about the freedom of movement that people should have across borders; there were probably also a few people who misunderstood the question or ticked the wrong box.

As with my previous blog post, I thought it would be interesting to look at differences by party. Respondents were categorised here according to their party identification (not their vote intention at the time of the survey). Here are the results for the above question, but this time among the sub-samples of identifiers with the four largest parties in Wales:


Group Lab Con Plaid UKIP
Refugees 72% 81% 75% 84%
People from Poland 65% 73% 74% 72%
People from Ireland 26% 25% 36% 19%
People from England 10% 5% 29% 5%
Exchange Students 6% 7% 10% 8%
3-4 Year Students 13% 15% 14% 18%
Tourists 2% 2% 5% 1%
Returners to the UK 3% 2% 5% 1%
None of these 14% 9% 8% 8%


What most stands out here, I think, is the contrast with the results in my previous blog post about attitudes to various groups. There we saw big differences by party, with UKIP identifiers displaying much more negative attitudes to some groups, including refugees and those from eastern Europe. Here we mostly see quite small differences, and UKIP identifiers actually less likely than others to categorise people from Ireland, for instance, as immigrants. Our findings suggest that UKIP identifiers do not differ from identifiers with other parties very much, in the main, in their definition of who is an immigrant; where they differ is in taking a more negative view of those immigrants, and of immigration itself

The biggest difference between the parties that we see here is in regard to those moving to Wales from England. For a significant minority of Plaid Cymru identifiers (although still below one third), such people (a category that includes me!) do count as immigrants; that is not so for anywhere near as many identifiers of the other parties.

In sum, we know that there are many people in Wales concerned about levels of immigration. But when we looks at who counts as an immigrant, we find that many of the categories of people who are currently included in figures like net migration statistics when they enter the UK would not actually be ‘counted’ by most people in Wales as an immigrant.


Source for all figures in this post: 2016 Welsh Election Study, pre-election wave (administered 7-18 March 2016). Number of respondents = 3,272. Data gathered by YouGov via the internet, and weighted for representativeness of the adult population in Wales.


  • Christian Schmidt

    What about people from Germany who come to live in England, then after some time move to Scotland and then to Wales? What’s the result for those?

  • J.Jones

    Interesting as ever. You could, since the question asked was “select all” that fit the immigrant description, work out an “insularity index”.
    The insularity index would be a measure of what percentage of a political party’s supporters considered all the groups named as being “outsiders” or people who “didn’t belong here” and is worked out by adding together the percentage totals of the people of each party who named any of the groups as “immigrant”.

    Bottom of the list we have Labour with 197. Next with a more limited definition of who is an immigrant we have UKIP with 208 closely followed by the Conservatives with 210.
    Way ahead of the pack, topping the “insularity index” is Plaid, whose followers see just about everyone as “immigrants” to some degree, with 248.
    This comes as no surprise to me because I live in an area dominated by Plaid but it must be something of a mystery to people in South Wales and the Valleys because all the Plaid rhetoric, from their politicians at least, is of a liberal view on immigration and a policy of open borders.

  • John R Walker

    So 29% of Plaid supporters view the English as immigrants. My question is where do they live and what is their first language?

    Is the view whether the English are immigrants predicated mostly by first language and concentrated mainly in Welsh-speaking counties?

  • J.Jones

    I would say that there is nothing unusual in a Nationalist party being more inclined to view people as “belonging” or “intruding” and within Plaid policy you can see this strand of thinking; “shall we build roads E-W or should there be a 4 lane motorway between Caernarfon and the Capital, Cardiff?”. Is “homes for local people!” a vote winner amongst our supporters? Can we make sure that immigrants can’t get jobs by demanding a Welsh language qualification? Should we make Welsh the language of the internal workings of Local Authorities? Can we dissuade immigration by removing English medium streams from schools?

    All these policies derive from the prevailing attitudes of Plaid’s supporters although there has always been a North South split in emphasis within the party. I doubt however that anyone in Plaid thinks that incomers are very likely to vote for them and therefore various ways of ensuring that the demographic mix does not change within their areas of influence have always been at the forefront of Plaid thinking.
    The mystery lies with Labour policy. Why do they consistently aid and abet the aims of Plaid? Do they fail to realise that the very measures that they put in place as a sop to Plaid actually harm their own electoral chances?

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