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Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2006, 06:40 GMT
Viewpoint: Expats chasing dreams
Age distribution of ex-pat Britons, showing the majority are either yong working age or middle-aged/retired

Brits Abroad
By Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah and Catherine Drew
Authors, IPPR Brits Abroad research

Immigration and emigration are being driven by Britain's strong economy, argue the authors of a think tank report charting in detail the lives of expat Britons.

Every three minutes a British national packs their bags and starts a new life abroad. Our Brits abroad study shows that Britain now has more people living abroad than almost any other country. And according to our calculations, up to a million more will make the move over the next five years.

For many people in the UK, these statistics will be disconcerting. Many will see large scale emigration as a sign that the UK is 'going to the dogs'.

Some commentators will also be quick to point out that white Britons are leaving in unprecedented numbers because immigrants are arriving in unprecedented numbers.

Rather than resist the growing interest and ability of people to move around the world, we should be devising ways of making the most of this mobility
Yet, while many 'Ten Pound Poms' headed off down under during the economically difficult aftermath of the Second World War, the 21st century British emigrant is likely to want to move for a more varied and more positive set of reasons.

When you ask today's emigrants why they want to leave almost 80% say it was for a better job, a better climate or to join loved ones.

When we see headlines talking of a city the size of Birmingham worth of immigrants arriving each year, we forget that a city the size of Nottingham leaves each year.

When we see headlines complaining about the lack of integration of migrants in Britain, keeping to their own culture, and their inability to speak English, we forget about the 750,000 Brits in Spain, watching EastEnders in the Dog and Duck on the Costa del Sol.

Every corner of the world

Cheap travel, better communications and free movement around the European Union mean that emigrating is easier than ever.

The real issue is the right scale of immigration into Britain in the present circumstances - net migration is the key issue - those who come minus those who go
Sir Andrew Green, Migrationwatch UK

From highly-skilled Brits being lured across the Pond by work opportunities in the US, to sun-seeking pensioners retiring to the Caribbean, to gap year students in New Zealand, Brits are in every corner of the world.

But there are economic factors that are driving the movement of people in and out of the UK.

Strong economic conditions in the UK are attracting migrant workers from across Europe and the world, who contribute in turn to further economic growth.

When the pound is strong and house prices are soaring, Britons selling up can get better value for money elsewhere.

Rather than more immigration causing more emigration, they may both be driven by a common factor - strong economic conditions in the UK.

Some people will find this new global population 'churn' quite unsettling. But here too there is reason to be optimistic.

The UK seems to be at the crossroads of global economic flows of goods, services and people.

The country with the world's biggest international financial centre and the world's busiest international airport is also the world's pre-eminent hub for the movement of people.

The US may receive far more immigrants than the UK - but Americans seem much more reluctant to emigrate than Brits.

French people living abroad are a fraction of the number of Brits abroad.

Countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand send large numbers of expats abroad but, even put together, their foreign population is smaller than the Britain's.

Such a large presence abroad offers important opportunities for the UK, in terms of trade, investment and knowledge networks.

But the UK will also need to plan for consequences of more emigration coupled with an aging population.

By 2050, the UK will be paying out 6.5 billion in benefits and 1.3 billion in healthcare costs to UK pensioners overseas.

Rather than resist the growing interest and ability of people to move around the world, we should be devising ways of making the most of this mobility.

Rather than see the UK emptying of Brits, we need to see the world filling up with Brits - the exports of economic success and valuable potential ambassadors for the UK.

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