Skip to main content

Understanding Covid experiences of migrants living in the UK

Globally, policy makers have overlooked the challenges faced by international migrants in host countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overlooking international migrants in government policy responses is short-sighted, considering migrants' roles in the cultural and social life of countries as well as their contributions as a (or “to the”) workforce. While some highlight how international migrants might be less familiar with the host country’s institutional logics and may not have fully developed a cognitive map to make sense of both formal and informal rules of actions and governmental measures, others point out that they might also experience barriers, including racism and xenophobia, preventing them from accessing health care services and other forms of support.

Achieving effective disease prevention and control without considering different migrant groups’ experiences, understanding and reactions to the imposed measures and interventions may create possible gaps in the epidemic prevention for government management. 

Considering the experiences of international migrants living in the UK during the Covid-19 lockdown from the theoretical perspective of coping, we try to investigate international migrants’ coping strategies adopted during the first UK national lockdown. In total, sixty semi-structured interviews were conducted with Chinese, Italian, Iranian migrants in the UK. In addition, twenty Taiwanese migrants are also interviewed using focus group discussions at two different points (April 2020 and October 2020).

Our findings 

We found multi-layered integrated coping strategies, including individual, household-based and community-based strategies, adopted by the migrants to cope with the anxieties and uncertainties caused by the pandemic. Our findings also show that international migrants’ coping strategies are context-specific, informed by both home and host institutional logics. As such, there are some attitudinal and behavioural differences amongst the Chinese, Italian and Iranian sample groups. Some coping strategies learnt from their home (country) triggered negative responses from the hostile context, which provoked new anxieties in participants, leading to their deployment of additional and/or ad-hoc solutions that are deemed unsatisfactory and compromising, exacerbating migrants’ marginalisation. Also, with the Taiwanese data, the findings reveal reconsideration and the beginning movement in their cultural identity choice.

View on YouTube

Please accept all cookies to view this content. Alternatively view the content on YouTube

Policy recommendations

Our research findings have implications for government policy makers to help reduce the paradoxical coping difficulties that migrants experience. Actions should be taken to better understand individual migrant’s coping strategies, to support migrant families and communities and to promote societal understanding and inclusion of various practices, informed by different institutional logics. Specifically, we advise the government and policy makers to consider the following:

  1. Use a variety of communication channels, including different social media platforms, to reach out all migrants.
  2. Offer language support to help migrants better comprehend key information, including guidelines and regulations.
  3. Provide a safety net to migrant families through local community support, signposting local resources available and initiatives that migrants could participate in, in order to integrate into the community.
  4. Provide social and emotional support to migrant families and acknowledge their issues, such as job loss, income reduction, feelings of isolation and relationship breakdown in policy responses.
  5. Work with migrant community opinion leaders to promote Covid-19 prevention and control campaigns.
  6. Promote societal harmony through social marketing campaigns that identify and discuss all types of practices available and acknowledge their legitimacy.
  7. Work closely with journalists, media and non-profit organisations (NGOs) to discuss migrants’ contributions to the combat of Covid-19 to portray migrants in a positive light and combat disinformation that accuses migrants of spreading Covid-19, not complying with lockdown ruling themselves from Covid-19 would help to protect migrants from stigmatisation or hate crime.
  8. Better knowledge exchange and learn from other countries’ experience. Work with migrants to improve UK national brand image internationally.


Yen, D.A.W., Cappellini, B., Yang, H.P. and Gupta, S., 2021. Coping with Coping: International Migrants’ Experiences of the Covid‐19 Lockdown in the UK. British Journal of Management, 32(4), pp.1219-1241.

Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Dorothy Yen
Dorothy Yen - Professor Dorothy A. Yen is a Professor in Marketing. She is currently the Director of Research at Brunel Business School, Brunel University London.  Dorothy takes a consumer-centric approach to understanding and discussing marketing, branding, and tourism matters. Dorothy studies how culture affects human behaviour, in both B2B and B2C domains. In the B2B domain, she looks at cross-cultural business relationships, with a particular focus on understanding how cultural-specific factors affect business relationships and collaborations. In the B2C domain, she studies consumer acculturation and sojourners’ and migrants' consumption practices and social media activities in relation to their cultural identity, as well as tourism boycotts and tourists' interactions with destinations on social media. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Dorothy explored how migrants in the UK attempted to cope with the life-threatening disease while dealing with institutional uncertainty and a hostile host environment. Dorothy’s proposal on branding Wales as a land of dragons and legends triggered numerous discussions, and she has been invited to give evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee.  Dorothy is a member of the Marketing and Corporate Brand Research Group at Brunel Business School and a lab leader of the Responsible Consumption and the Circular Economy Lab for the CBASS research centre of Substantiality and Entrepreneurship. Office hours are provided on Wednesdays from 11am to 1pm. Students can also email her to book an appointment at a mutually convenient time. This can be either on campus or via Microsoft TEAM upon mutual agreement.

Related Research Group(s)

fruit waste

Global Lives - Research conducted in the Centre addresses the challenges facing society, helping to change the lives of people around the world by bringing economic, social and cultural benefits.

Partnering with confidence

Organisations interested in our research can partner with us with confidence backed by an external and independent benchmark: The Knowledge Exchange Framework. Read more.

Project last modified 12/10/2023