Net migration to UK from EU hits lowest level since 2003

Net migration to the UK from the EU is at its lowest level since 2003, according to the latest estimates.

In the year to June, after a pre-referendum peak of 218,000 in 2015, EU net migration plummeted to 48,000.

This is the lowest rate since 2003 when it was estimated to be 15,000, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data.

That year, fewer countries were members of the European Union but 2004 saw a surge to 84,000 during the largest single expansion of the bloc when 10 countries – including Poland, the Czech Republic and Cyprus – joined.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Other jumps followed in 2007 and 2013 when more countries joined.

The number of EU citizens arriving into the UK has gradually fallen since 2016, mainly because there has been a drop in people coming to the country for work, the ONS said.

Immigration experts said EU net migration had “fallen dramatically” since before the referendum and reasons could include the lower value of the pound making the UK less attractive, improving economic prospects in some countries of origin and potentially the political uncertainty of the prolonged Brexit process.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “What will happen to migration in the coming years is highly uncertain, regardless of which party is power.

“It’s easy to imagine migration policies are the only things that affect migration, but in reality, policies act more like a filter than a tap.

“The state of the economy, demand for workers by UK employers, conditions in countries of origin can have a big impact on migration, in some cases even more than changes in policy.

“That’s one reason why we’ve seen such a big drop in EU migration since 2016, despite the fact that policy has not yet changed at all.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The observatory warned restricting free movement may have a much smaller impact on overall migration levels than it would have done previously because of the low levels of EU net migration.

Net migration of non-EU citizens continued to steadily rise since 2013 and now stands at 229,000.

Overall around 212,000 more people moved to the UK long-term in the last year than left, according to figures for the same period which looked at people coming to the country with the intention to stay for 12 months or more.

The figures are classed as experimental estimates after the ONS admitted earlier this year it had been underestimating some EU net migration data since 2016.

There had been a decline immigration for work while people coming to the UK to study has gradually increased, prompting concerns from business groups, the ONS said.

Matthew Fell, chief UK policy director for Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said: “These figures throw into sharp focus the question of how a new immigration system will operate in future, as few details are available at present.

Since 2016, there has been a fall in immigration for work. Over the same period, immigration for study has been gradually increasing

— Office for National Statistics (@ONS) November 28, 2019

“Allowing firms to access the people and skills they need is as important as forging our future trading relationship with the EU, our biggest trading partner.

“Focusing only on the ‘brightest and best’ misses the point, as shortages already exist at all skill levels against the backdrop of record employment, despite many employers increasing spending on training. To build new homes and schools, we don’t just need architects and engineers, but bricklayers and plumbers too.

“Getting right the biggest change to UK immigration in nearly 30 years – so it works for firms of all sizes on day one – is far more important than rushing for political expediency.”

Sophie Wingfield, head of policy and public affairs at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said the figures showed “worrying trends in migration for work continuing.

“Our data has consistently shown a serious shortage of UK workers in many sectors, ranging from healthcare and engineering to hospitality and agriculture, and this has been getting worse since 2013.

“Meanwhile, the UK is becoming a less attractive destination for workers from overseas.

“Employers and recruiters need to be able to attract migrant workers to fill these vital roles.

“It is essential that we build a post-Brexit immigration system which is evidence-based and works for business, workers and the economy.”