EU net migration drops to 10-year low as more leave than arrive from central and eastern Europe ahead of Brexit

More than 145,000 EU citizens leave UK as non-EU net migration hits highest level since 2004

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 28 February 2019 10:39 GMT
Sajid Javid says government will back EU citizens amendment

EU net migration has plummeted to the lowest level since 2009, as citizens from central and eastern European countries leave Britain ahead of Brexit.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said net migration from outside the EU had risen to the highest level in 15 years in the same period.

Overall, around 283,000 more people planning to live in Britain long-term arrived than left in the 12 months to September 2018.

Jay Lindop, director for the ONS centre for international migration, said: “Decisions to migrate are complex and a person’s decision to move to or from the UK will always be influenced by a range of factors, including work, study and family reasons.

“Different patterns for EU and non-EU migration have emerged since mid-2016, when the EU referendum vote took place. Due to increasing numbers arriving for work and study, non-EU net migration is now at the highest level since 2004.

“In contrast, EU net migration, while still adding to the population as a whole, has fallen to a level last seen in 2009. We are also now seeing more EU8 citizens – those from central and eastern European countries, for example Poland – leaving the UK than arriving.”

The statistics were released after Sajid Javid pledged the government would back a move to protect the rights of EU citizens living in Britain in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

ONS figures show that 121,000 British people left the UK in the year to September, compared to only 85,000 returning, leaving a deficit of 35,000 people.

Overall EU net migration stood at 57,000 after 145,000 European citizens left and 202,000 arrived.

People from EU8 countries, including Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania and Hungary, left in the highest numbers, with 53,000 departing in the year. Net migration from outside the EU was 261,000.

The ONS said that there were fewer people arriving for work overall, but more for study, with non-EU student immigration at its highest level since 2011.

“The decrease in work-related immigration over the last two years can be largely accounted for by the recent fall in the number of EU citizens arriving with a definite job and the previous fall in the number of EU citizens looking for work,” the ONS added.

Tej Parikh, a senior economist at the Institute of Directors, said large companies were recruiting workers from outside the EU to compensate for a loss of EU employees.

Theresa May apologies for previously saying EU citizens had 'jumped the queue' under current immigration rules

“With job vacancies at record highs, recruiting from abroad has never been more crucial for British businesses,” he added.

“Already, firms across the retail, hospitality and construction sectors are facing obstacles as some EU workers are returning home, while it’s also becoming harder to attract labour from Europe amidst the uncertain political climate.”

The UK granted asylum, alternative forms of protection and resettlement to almost 15,900 people in the year ending December 2018, with rises in grants for Turks and Libyans, but falls for Iranian, Eritrean and Sudanese nationals.

Diane Abbott MP, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said: “Once again the number of migrants coming here vastly outstrips the government’s unworkable 100,000 net migration target.

“Its policy is not really about reducing numbers, but allows it to maintain a constant campaign against migration and migrants.”

Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister, said: “The UK is continuing to attract and retain highly skilled workers, including more doctors and nurses, while talented international students are benefiting from our world leading universities and boosting our economy.

“However, we are committed to controlled and sustainable migration. As we leave the EU, our new immigration system will give us full control over who comes here for the first time in decades, while enabling employers to have access to the skills they need from around the world.

“We’ve always been clear that we want EU citizens to stay here, and the EU Settlement Scheme is making it simple and straightforward for EU citizens to get the status they need.”

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