Net migration to the UK fell sharply in 2020 but there is “no evidence of an exodus” of people triggered by Covid-19 or Brexit, new analysis has suggested.
An estimated 34,000 more people arrived in the country than left last year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This is down 88% on 2019, when net migration stood at 271,000.
Immigration in 2020 was much lower than in previous years, with an estimated 268,000 people arriving in the UK – just under half the number in 2019 (592,000).
The number of people leaving the country to live abroad also fell last year, down from 300,000 in 2019 to 234,000 in 2020.
The difference between those arriving and leaving – 34,000 – is around a tenth of the total in 2015, when net migration stood at 329,000.
Jay Lindop, director of the ONS centre for international migration, said that while the figures show “no evidence of an exodus from the UK in 2020”, global travel restrictions meant the movement of people was limited, with “all data sources suggesting migration fell to the lowest level seen for many years”.
The year 2020 was a “highly unusual one for global migration, in that historical trends and typical behaviour patterns were significantly disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and associated restrictions,” she added.
“For the UK, the other major event occurring in 2020 was the end of the Brexit transition period. The impact of Brexit on migration will be difficult to disentangle from the effects of the pandemic.”
During the transition period, the UK continued to be part of the European Union customs union and the single market, and people could migrate between the UK and the EU without needing a visa.
Our analysis, based on new experimental methods, showed immigration was much lower in 2020 than previous years, likely caused by a combination of the #COVID19 pandemic and Brexit.
An estimated 268,000 people immigrated to the UK during 2020, compared to 592,000 people in 2019. pic.twitter.com/bCNstLzCIH
— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) November 25, 2021
More EU nationals were estimated to have left the UK in 2020 (146,000) than arrived (52,000).
The ONS cautioned that all its migration estimates were based on “experimental research” and were “subject to a high level of uncertainty”.
The drop in net migration means the UK has hit the “elusive and now abandoned net migration target promised by David Cameron”, the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory noted.
At the 2010 general election, Mr Cameron announced net migration to the UK would be cut from the “hundreds of thousands” to the “tens of thousands” by 2015.
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, said: “For most of the 2010s it was pretty difficult to fathom what would be required to hit the net migration target, which was so far below migration levels at the time.
“These 2020 estimates illustrate that the severe disruption of a global pandemic appears to have dramatically reduced people’s motivations or ability to move to the UK.”