OBJECTIVE: To investigate whether trends in tuberculosis (TB) rates across Europe are linked to patterns of migration. DESIGN: Descriptive analysis of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development population statistics and EuroTB data for 21 European countries for 1996-2005. RESULTS: TB notification rates increased in only three of the 21 countries: the United Kingdom, Norway and Sweden. In all three countries, approximately three quarters of cases were foreign-born. The UK had the third highest number of foreign nationals overall, but the highest number from a country with a TB incidence > or =250 cases/100000 (219000, 13%). European countries with declining TB rates had varying patterns of migration, but did not generally receive migrants from very high-incidence countries and/or had a smaller proportion of their total TB cases in their migrant population. CONCLUSIONS: The increase in the rate of TB in the UK, which contrasts with most other European countries, may, at least in part, be due to the fact that a high proportion of UK cases occur in the foreign-born, coupled with a comparatively large number of foreign nationals from countries with a very high incidence of TB.