EU migration to UK plummets amid Brexit fears

The numbers of EU citizens relocating to the UK saw a significant drop in 2017, however net migration remains more than twice as the size of government targets.

Heathrow airport
A 45 per cent drop in the number of EU citizens arriving to live and work in the UK saw net migration fall to 244,000 in the year ending September 2017, official data revealed.

European migration drops

Fears over the post-Brexit future of EU nationals were blamed for fact that the number of arriving Europeans fell below 100,000 for the first time in five years. Meanwhile the number of people emigrating from the UK increased while the total arriving in Britain from outside the European Economic Area increased.“The figures confirm trends already emerging from a surge in applications from outside the EU for Tier 2 visas for skilled non-EU migrants, which many observers believe show employers are seeking non-EU employees as EU migrants become less willing to work in Britain,” reported the Financial Times.

Net migration pattern changes

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed net migration over the 12 months to be 244,000 with 578,000 people arriving and 334,000 leaving. Net migration from the EU was put at 90,000, some 26,000 fewer than a year earlier.The number of arriving EU citizens fell by 47,000 year-on-year while the 130,000 leaving was the highest recorded level since the 2008 financial crisis. The majority of arriving Europeans already had a job lined up while more than half of Tier 2 visas granted went to skilled workers from India.Although the overall figures represent a continuing decline in net migration since the 2016 referendum on EU membership, the total is still well above the government target of reducing the annual total to below 100,000.Nicola White, head of migration statistics at the ONS, said, “Looking at the underlying numbers we can see that EU net migration has fallen as fewer EU citizens are arriving, especially those coming to look for work in the UK, and the number leaving has risen. It has now returned to the level seen in 2012.“The figures also show that non-EU net migration is now larger than EU net migration, mainly due to the large decrease in EU net migration over the last year. However, migration of both non-EU and EU citizens are still adding to the UK population.“Brexit could well be a factor in people’s decision to move to or from the UK, but people’s decision to migrate is complicated and can be influenced by lots of different reasons.”
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UK less economically attractive

Jonathan Portes, the professor of economic and public policy at King’s College London, said the fall in EU migration was “due to the fact that, after the Brexit vote, the UK has become significantly less attractive to European migrants, for both economic and psychological reasons, and is likely to be one of the factors explaining the UK’s growth slowdown relative to the rest of Europe and the world”.George Koureas, a partner at immigration law firm Fragomen, added, “The UK has become a significantly less attractive place for European citizens to work since Brexit, so it’s no surprise that more EU workers are leaving the country. “Although the government may see this as good news, it presents a significant threat to UK businesses, already struggling to hire the skilled workers they need to thrive.”Mr Koureas said there could be a further impact from the government’s plan to double the Immigration Health Surcharge, which is paid by migrants to use the NHS, and proposed caps on visas for skilled workers.

Rights of EU citizens

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said the government remained committed to “controlled and sustainable migration – bringing net migration”.She added, “This means an immigration system that attracts and retains people who come to work and bring significant benefits to the UK but does not offer an open door to those who don’t.“Net migration remains 29,000 lower than it was a year ago and once we leave the EU we will be able to put in place an immigration system which works in the best interest of the whole of the UK.“At the same time, we have been clear that we want EU citizens already living here to have certainty about their future and the citizens’ rights agreement reached in December provided that.”

UK business concerns

Tej Parikh, senior economist at the Institute of Directors, said the decline in long-term migration compounded businesses’ concerns over their access to labour at a time when the labour market is particularly strained.“Today’s data show that annual net migration to September 2017 fell by 29,000 to 244,000 compared with the year before. Some of this has been driven by a decline in the number of EU citizens coming in search of work, as well as a pick-up in the number of people from the bloc leaving the UK. With vacancies at an all-time high and unemployment at a historic low, companies are scrambling for shrinking pool of talent," he said.“This will bite SMEs the hardest, who lack the capacity to navigate the bureaucratic visa process in order to attract the workers they need. The government must help businesses retain access to the human resources they need through migration and skills reform."The Tier 2 visa limit has now been maxed out for the third consecutive month, with NHS workers, teachers and care workers lumped in with private sector employees. As British Future have argued today, Minister must look at a more sophisticated approach that takes account of the skills both public services and the economy need. The Home Office must also do more to streamline its visa application processes, while the apprenticeship system needs to be made more flexible to give businesses access to the people they require today.“With Cabinet ministers meeting at Chequers today to discuss the UK’s future relationship with the EU, they must also make sure one of their immediate priorities is to reassure EU citizens about their status, to halt the outflow of skills.”
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