25 Aug 2017

Surge in EU nationals leaving UK since Brexit vote

6:09 am on 25 August 2017

Net migration in Britain has fallen to the lowest level for three years after a surge in the number of EU nationals leaving the UK since last June's Brexit vote.

No caption

The number of EU citizens who have migrated to the UK in the year after Brexit has dropped by more than 50,000. Photo: AFP

Net migration - the difference between those entering and leaving the UK - fell 81,000 to 246,000 in the year to March 2017.

More than half that change is due to a decrease in net migration of EU citizens, which is down 51,000.

The government is committed to reducing net migration to below 100,000.

Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis welcomed the new figures, saying: "It was good to see a third quarter running of net migration figures coming down."

But business groups raised concerns about the fall, with the CBI saying: "The loss of these vital skills should concern us all."

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show a particularly sharp rise, of 17,000, in departures of citizens from the so-called EU8 countries - Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

An ONS spokesman said: "These results indicate that the EU referendum result may be influencing people's decision to migrate into and out of the UK, particularly EU and EU8 citizens.

"It is too early to tell if this is an indication of a long-term trend."

The figures show that immigration from all countries has fallen - and emigration has also risen.

Exit checks

International migration for work remained the most likely reason to move, said the ONS, but it added that people were now more likely to move if they have a definite job, rather than to just look for work.

A spokesman for the Institute of Directors said "no one should celebrate these numbers".

"Given unemployment is currently at its lowest level ever (4.5 percent), without the three million EU citizens living here the UK would have an acute labour shortage.

"Signs that it is becoming a less attractive place to live and work are a concern," he added.

Theresa May has said Parliament will get a final say on the final Brexit bill.

British PM Theresa May Photo: AFP

Matthew Percival, head of employment at UK business group CBI, said EU nationals made a "crucial contribution" to the economy.

"This latest data reflects a trend many businesses have seen - an increase in the number of EU citizens leaving the country," he said.

"The loss of these vital skills should concern us all, underlining the importance of urgently providing certainty for millions of workers and their families."

The government has also published the first ever "exit checks" data - a proper count of all people who are actually known to have left the UK.

For the year to March 2017, the data shows that 97 percent of students from outside the EU with a visa to enter the UK are known to have complied with the terms of their visa by either departing the UK or remaining in the country by extending their visas.

It is not clear what had happened to the remaining 3 percent whose visas had expired.

This previously unknown figure runs contrary to repeated claims that international students are abusing the immigration system to stay illegally in the UK.

Labour's shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said it showed Theresa May's "long-running campaign to malign international students" was "based on fantasy".

And Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the NHS was facing recruitment problems due to the lack of EU workers - and the UK needed a migration policy based on the "economic needs" of the country.

The Lib Dems called the overall drop in net migration a "deeply worrying Brexodus of EU citizens", blaming the government's failure to guarantee their rights to stay in the UK after Brexit.

- BBC

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs