Articles |

The Greek Diaspora In The UK

A new diaNEOsis' study outlines the beliefs of the greek diaspora members in the UK.

The UK has historically hosted a numerically small but economically vibrant subsection of the Greek diaspora. In the eve of the Greek crisis it comprised three main groups: a historically rooted economic elite, active in banking and shipping; a sizeable group of students; and a group of Greek professionals, notably academics, lawyers and doctors. In 2011, the UK-based Greek population counted approximately 35,000 people. However, after a period of relatively slow population growth, the Greek diaspora in the UK was to expand exponentially. The crisis in Greece led to the resurgence of mass emigration, with the UK emerging as one of its most dynamic destinations, second only to Germany.

As a result, the Greek population in the UK more than doubled within a time span of only seven years, currently estimated to count approximately 80,000 people. The crisis-driven emigration not only critically expanded the population size of the Greek diaspora in the UK but also highly diversified its sociodemographic make-up. The UK is the prime destination for the highly skilled migrants leaving Greece, thus receiving a large share of the ongoing brain drain flows, while its dynamic labor market also attracts people of lower educational attainments, even if to a lesser degree, who look for job opportunities in the country’s vibrant service economy. These developments thus make the study of this under-researched Greek diasporic community urgently needed. Not only for examining how its profile has drastically reshaped over the past few years, but also as a critical case through which to explore the issue of diaspora engagement — an issue that is of critical importance for Greece's post-crisis future.

As an important step in that direction, this report outlines the findings of the SEESOX-GDUK (Greek Diaspora in the UK) survey. This is a pioneering survey that was carried out from October 2018 to May 2019 by the SEESOX Diaspora team, at the University of Oxford through the support and funding of the Research and Policy Institute diaNEOsis. The SEESOX-GDUK is the first major survey focusing on the Greek diaspora in the UK and the first study on a Greek diasporic community that manages to approximate a representative sample via an innovative application of the web-based "respondent driven sampling" methodology. It addresses the following two research questions: (1) What is the socioeconomic, political and cultural profile of the Greek diaspora in the UK? (2) In what ways are Greeks in the UK connected to Greece and to what extent and under what conditions are they willing and able to contribute to Greece at times of crisis and beyond?

The demographic profile of the Greek diaspora in the UK

The survey reveals that the Greek diaspora in the UK comprises a very dynamic and positively selected population. It has a balanced gender ratio and a young demographic make-up with more than 80% of the adult population being less than 45 years old. This young age composition is an outcome of the numerical dominance of the post-crisis migrants who form more than 70% of the total UK based Greek population and whose mean age at the year of migration is 29 years old. It also relates to the large number of Greek students in the UK who form 14.3% of the diaspora.

Concerning their family statues, more than two thirds (69.2%) of the Greeks in the UK are in a relationship with 32% being married and the rest being in civil partnership or in a non-legally formalised relationship. Over a quarter have children of whom 47.9% were born in the UK.

UK-based Greeks are also very highly educated population with the share of university graduates estimated at 75%. This is more than double the share of university graduates in Greece and considerably higher than the share of university graduates in the UK. This finding confirms the diachronic status of the UK as a major destination for people with high educational credentials. That is in contrast to Germany, a country of traditional migration, still offering economically rewarding opportunities to people with low to medium levels of education. This contrast does not only highlight the difference in the structure of the labor market in those two countries but also the significance of social networks which help a large number Greek migrants to secure employment in ethnic niches in Germany, while the most migrants in the UK find jobs mostly through applications for (publicly advertised) vacancies based on their own attainments, through their University, or through recruitment agencies.

The findings of the survey also corroborate the image of UK as a destination for people of upper -middle and upper classes which however seem to be at least partly changing. Forty-nine per cent of the Greeks in the UK have at least one parent with tertiary level education and 70.9% describing the economic situation of their family before the crisis as either "good" or "very good". However, there is an increasing number of people from lower socioeconomic strata migrating in the years of the crisis, even if still a clear minority.

Migration motivations

Even though unemployment seems to be a significant contributor driving people out of the country in the period of the crisis, it is not a necessary condition given that approximately one in two of the post-2010 emigrants to the UK was employed at the time of emigration. The majority of crisis migrants, similarly to those who emigrated in earlier years, did not leave Greece to find any job but rather looking for "a better working environment", "a job better matching their skills and aspirations" or "one which would provide them career advancement potentials". Such reasons relating to employment single out as the most commonly cited migration motivations both among pre crisis and post crisis migrants.

Secondarily, they emigrated for economic reasons such as "achieving a better remuneration", "being able to be economically independent" or simply "looking to make ends meet". As expected, such motivations are far more important among the crisis migrants. Thirdly, the respondents cited negative factors pertaining to the wider sociopolitical environment in Greece and related expectations for better societal conditions abroad. Motivation related to studying come forth (but second among the pre-crisis migrants for whom economic motivations were much less important), closely followed by personal reasons and considerations of self-exploration as well as family related reasons such as re-joining with their partner or migrating for the wellbeing of their children.

It is noteworthy however that for the majority of respondents migration was a decision shaped by a combination of economic, social reasons and/or personal reasons and cannot be a explained monodimensionally. At the same time a clear distinction may be drawn between migration before and after the crisis with migration in the post-2010 period being more a matter of necessity rather than one of (career) choice. Necessity is here understood not in the sense of absolute economic need, but rather framed in terms of a wider context of lack of prospects in Greece, negative images about the sociopolitical conditions in the country, as well as positive evaluations of life and work abroad. In the period of the crisis migration is overall driven neither driven by strict material considerations nor by a wish to survive but is rather informed by aspirations for socioeconomic stability and personal progress.

Interestingly many more women appear to be leaving Greece seeking to be economically independent and due to the impact of the crisis in their lives. The impact of the crisis appears to have also been critically important among older migrants and migrants without tertiary education with a considerable number of the older age group (+45 years old) having migrated simply to make ends meet and the majority of people without university education having migrated seeking better remuneration.

Life in the UK

Speaking English and study related considerations are the prime reasons why the UK was as the preferred destination country for most of the respondents. The dynamic UK labor market also seems to have played an important role in their decision with many migrants having found a job before they moved to the UK and others migrating there due to expectations they can easily find a good job there. Interesting differences are observed between the pre-crisis and the post-crisis migrants. The former migrated to the UK primarily for reasons related to their studies and the latter due to speaking the language and due to expectations of being able to secure good employment there. 

Greeks in the UK appear to be overall satisfied from their life in the UK especially in terms of their employment conditions and financial situation which they evaluate favorably in comparison to their experiences in Greece. They are less satisfied however from their social life and their relation to politics which are respectively reflected on their expressed feelings of nostalgia and their demand to be allowed to vote from abroad.

Social mobility and economic integration

Given that a large segment of the Greek diaspora in the UK comprises people from upper-middle classes who already had good jobs in Greece, migration did not entail upward job mobility for most of them but securing employment on the same economic sector and at a similar level. Several skilled migrants from more modest socioeconomic backgrounds however experienced downward mobility at migration (i.e. first job in the UK) having to work in lower status jobs for a certain period before they secured a job closer to their qualifications. Looking through a longer-term perspective though, the overall picture is clearly one of progress while there were also several migrants who were able to immediately secure a higher-ranking position in the UK immediately after migration. Another, notable finding is that half of the Greek students in the UK are working while studying.

Concerning the income situation of the Greeks in the UK, this is found to be comparable to that of the general UK population with an overrepresentation in lower-middle and middle incomes and an underrepresentation in very low and very high incomes. Most of the high earners are found among the pre-crisis migrants which highlights the significance of time for the upwards socioeconomic mobility of migrant groups. Having said that and given the limited period that most people have spent in the UK the overall socioeconomic situation of the Greeks in the UK is very favorable reflecting their high educational attainments and their placement in professional and semi-professional jobs. It is also reflected on their employment situation with most of them enjoying considerable job security, while the self-employed and the entrepreneurs form a minority estimated at approximately 6%.

It should be noted however that there is also a significant segment of the Greek population in the UK working in rather poorly paid middle-range office and administrative work or as assistants in the education or health sector. Finally, there is a marked difference in the salary situation between on the one hand graduates of social sciences and especially graduates of arts and humanities and on the other hand those working in the health the financial sector as well as in specialized IT positions. The latter achieve high incomes while the later receive considerably lower remuneration.

Social integration and identity

Greeks in the UK have an ethnically diverse group of friends which is also reflected on their self-identification as many them feeling as citizens of the word. In terms of how close they feel to the British and Greek culture, even though, and as would be expected, they feel closer to Greek culture, differences are not that pronounced with most of them being equally comfortable with both cultures. The majority does identify strongly as Greeks though and interestingly without assigning significance to religion as an important component of their Greekness. This finding is corroborated with the survey data on religion according to which half of the survey participants identify as either non-religious or atheists and only 20% of them attend religious services at least once per month.

Half of the Greeks in the UK have not experienced discrimination or xenophobic slurs in everyday life but there is an alarming 20% of people who had many such experiences something which becomes particularly alarming for the post Brexit period.

Political attitudes of the Greeks in the UK

The survey findings on blame attribution about the crisis and trust in institutions in Greece, reveals a generalized disenchantment among the Greeks in the UK with the political system and its institutions in Greece. This seems to be contributing to the construction of a loose bond with the homeland and intensifying a political distancing on part of a minority of the Greek diaspora in the UK. The political attitudes of the respondents do not seem to differentiate from what it is already known from the Greek political arena. In particular, their ideological self-placement in the left-right scale follows the trend that allocates the majority of voters in the middle of the axis with a slight self-placement to the left, that is also reflected on the ideological traditions they feel closer to, namely social-democracy and liberalism.

Diaspora engagement

Personal attachment with Greece is high among the Greek diaspora in the UK with people feeling emotionally attached to Greece and having a moral responsibility towards "their own people" living there. Such feelings however do not scale up to the country level. UK Greek diasporans do not feel morally obliged to help Greece with financial or any other kind of contributions possibly due to their discredited image of the political system in the country.

Sending money to homeland is not a common practice among the Greek migrants since only 11,6% of our sample answered that they are sending systematically money to Greece and 25% sending money occasionally. The generally low level of remittances is explained by the financial situation of the respondents’ family in Greece as most of them come from middle and upper-middle class families that do not require financial support.

Except from monetary contributions directed to the family, the survey also considered the development of professional collaborations with homeland and the offer of financial or non-financial help in the form of voluntary work, know-how transfer, mentorship, fundraising action and professional advice. Thus far it is a minority of people that have engaged in such activities; this is to be expected given the recency of the migration flows that brought the majority of the migrants to the UK.

At the same time, and while there is indeed a considerable number of people who are not interested in developing ties with homeland, possibly reflecting their disappointment with Greece and Greek politics, there is an equally important share of Greeks in the UK who wish to offer help or importantly engage in collaborations but have not managed to do so yet. In fact, support from the homeland in strengthening such collaborations is one of the most important demands by the UK based diaspora towards the Greek state. Lack of information and contacts in Greece as well as lack of time and resources as the prime reasons cited that prevent people. Bureaucracy is also considered a major problem.

Finally, the most vocal demand on part of the Greek diaspora from the Greek state is the request to be able to vote in Greek parliamentary elections from abroad. The vast majority of respondent answered that they would like to be able to vote in Greek parliamentary elections from abroad, although we should also note that there is a significant minority of respondents (24,9%) among the crisis migrants and are not interested, reflecting abroad feeling of discontent or at least indifference with the political system in their home country.

Regarding the scope of the right to vote from abroad, respondents are divided between those who believe that only those who have a closer and recent relationship with Greece should vote and those who believe that "everyone should have the right to vote". Regarding the question "In which constituency should the Greeks abroad vote?" there is a  clear preference for their vote to carry equal weight among the members of the Greek diaspora in the UK without however having entrenched views about the best way to implement this principle of equality.


Return plans and aspirations for return are low with only 11% of the overall sample planning to return and 25% wishing to do so but not being able to materialise their aspiration.  This finding evinces that 1) most of the migrants do not think they can achieve their goals in Greece currently and that 2) they have planned their migration as a longer-term project. However, the majority (66%) does wish to return in the longer run if certain conditions are me. This amelioration of conditions primarily refers to employment concerns notably finding a job that would match their skills and secondarily finding a job that would satisfy them economically. Finally, the Brexit referendum results does seem to influence the future plans of some respondents (interestingly mostly those who had settled in the UK before the crisis) but for the moment the majority does not seem to depend future decisions about leaving the UK on Brexit results.