Net migration to the UK falls to lowest for three years as EU citizens leave

Updated: 

Net migration to the UK has fallen to the lowest level for three years after a surge in the number of EU nationals leaving the country.

Official estimates show the overall measure - the difference between arrivals and departures -  was at 246,000 in the year to the end of March, a fall of 81,000 compared with the previous 12 months.

The Office for National Statistics said more than half of the change can be accounted for by a 51,000 decrease in net migration of EU citizens.

Emigration of EU citizens increased by 33,000 year-on-year to 122,000 - the highest outflow for nearly a decade.

There was a particularly sharp rise, of 17,000, in departures of citizens from the so-called EU8 countries which joined the union in 2004 - Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

At the same time there was a 19,000 decrease in immigration from the EU, although this was not "statistically significant".

Nicola White, head of international migration statistics at the ONS, said: "We have seen a fall in net migration driven by an increase in emigration, mainly for EU citizens and in particular EU8 citizens, and a decrease in immigration across all groups.

"International migration for work remains the most common reason for migration with people becoming increasingly likely to move to the UK or overseas only with a definite job than to move looking for work.

"These results are similar to 2016 estimates and 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."

Net long-term migration estimates reflect the balance between the numbers coming to the UK or leaving for at least 12 months. 

The overall figure of 246,000, which includes migration from outside the EU, is the lowest since the year ending March 2014.

EU net migration was estimated at 127,000 in the year to March, a dip of 51,000 on the previous 12 months. 

The figure for the rest of the world was also down, by 14,000, to 179,000.

Separate population figures for 2016 revealed that the number of Polish nationals living in the UK has passed the one million mark for the first time.

Last year around one in seven residents were born abroad, and one in 11 had non-British nationality.

Another dataset released on Thursday showed that more than a quarter (28.2%) of births in England and Wales were to women born outside the UK, the highest level on record.

Statisticians said that despite an overall decline in the number of births between 2015 and 2016, births to mothers born overseas increased by 2.1% as foreign-born women make up an increasing share of the female population of childbearing age.

Brent in north-west London was the local authority area with the highest percentage of births to non-UK-born women, at more than three quarters (76.0%).