Net migration to the UK has plummeted by more than 100,000 in the year since the vote for Brexit as EU citizens leave, new statistics show.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the number of people moving to live in Britain long-term had fallen to 230,000 in the year to June – the largest drop since records began.
Nicola White, the ONS’s head of international migration statistics, said that while net migration was still adding to the UK population, there had been “statistically significant” decreases.
“The decline follows historically high levels of immigration and it is too early to say whether this represents a long-term trend,” she added. “The number of people immigrating for a definite job has remained stable but there has been a 43 per cent decrease in the number of people immigrating to look for work over the last year, especially for EU citizens.
“These changes suggest that Brexit is likely to be a factor in people’s decision to move to or from the UK – but decisions to migrate are complex and other factors are also going to be influencing the figures.”
Maike Bohn, a founding member of EU citizens’ group The 3 Million, said more people would leave until the Government provides certainty over their status over Brexit.
“It takes time for people to relocate their families and lives, it’s not a decision people take lightly and there will be a delay,” she told The Independent. “This trend will continue as the hostile environment bites more and more.”
Ms Bohn said there needs to be a simple, non-discriminatory process for EU citizens to register, adding: “The Government needs to guarantee our current set of rights ... and the current proposal doesn’t do that.”
She raised concern for EU citizens who want to leave the UK but are “trapped” by low incomes or other vulnerabilities, claiming that some councils are discriminating against European residents.
Theresa May issued a direct appeal for EU citizens to stay in Britain after it leaves the bloc last month, reassuring them that all those living in the country legally will be able to stay.
“We want people to stay and we want families to stay together,” the letter said. “We hugely value the contributions that EU nationals make to the economic, social and cultural fabric of the UK.”
But analysts have warned of a possible “brain drain” in vital industries with the departure of 123,000 EU citizens since June 2016 – a dramatic increase from 28,000 the previous year, alongside a drop in arrivals from the bloc.
Emigration was highest among those from the original group of 15 EU countries including Germany, France and Spain, followed by eight central and eastern European countries including Poland that joined in 2004, and Romania and Bulgaria.
Net long-term migration from outside the EU was estimated at 173,000 in the year to June – a fall of 23,000 on the previous year.
Some of those leaving in the so-called “Brexodus” have told The Independent they no longer felt welcome in the UK amid a rise in hate crime and violence linked to the EU referendum.
Among them is Lukasz, a former London bus driver who has lived in the UK since he was eight years old, felt racism has “shot up” and has seen members of the public arguing.
“Someone sprayed ‘GO HOME’ on a Polish shop near me,” he said.
“My mum had an incident where she was on a bus with my two-year-old sister, where a guy said ‘f**k off, go back to your country you b****, if not I will stab you’.
“Maybe this guy was not mentally stable, and it was reported to the police, but in 20 years of living in the UK I never heard anyone be racist to me or my family. Since the referendum it has all come out.”
Around 128,000 British people also left the UK in the year to June, with some saying the EU referendum had driven them to move abroad, or apply for citizenship from other countries including Ireland.
Ian, an IT consultant from south-west England who did not want his full name published, told The Independent he believes many more people will seek to escape the “economic bloodbath” accompanying Britain’s departure from the EU.
He was moving to Ireland with his wife and three children because “the United Kingdom has a long-term future”.
In 2016, the largest inflow of immigrants to the UK was from Romania, with 50,000 arrivals, and the largest outflow of British emigrants was to Australia (25,000) and of non-British citizens was to Poland (20,000).
Analysts at research body the UK in a Changing Europe said the country had become a “less attractive place for European migrants” even more any curbs to freedom of movement.
Professor Jonathan Portes said the stark figures were partly because of the slowing economy and falling value of the pound, and partly because of the “wider social and political impacts of the Brexit vote”.
“Whatever your views on the impact of immigration, it cannot be good news that the UK is a less attractive place to live and work, and that we will be poorer as a result,” he added. “If the Government wants to make Brexit a success, it needs to reverse this.
“This means both action now to secure the rights of EU citizens living here, and a clear signal that we will have a liberal and economically sensible immigration policy post-Brexit – not one that is, as now, driven by arbitrary targets, or that seeks to create a ‘hostile environment’ for those coming here from abroad.”
Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, said the Conservative Government was failing to meet its own target to reduce annual net migration to 100,000.
“This isn't a genuine policy but allows a permanent campaign against migrants and migration,” she added.
“The Tories’ chaotic mishandling of the Brexit negotiations has already seen many sectors experiencing severe staff shortages, including the NHS and social care.
“It is time to drop this meaningless target.”
The Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson, Ed Davey, said immigration was falling because of the “catastrophic consequences of the Government taking Britain out of the world’s largest single market”.
“The Conservative pursuit of an extreme Brexit is crashing the economy and making the country a less attractive place to be,” he added.
The Home Office pointed to separate figures showing that the number of EU nationals applying to become British citizens nearly doubled in the same period.
Brandon Lewis, the immigration minister, said the Government would continue reforming routes from outside Europe and will negotiate the “right deal” in Brexit negotiations.
“We have been clear we want to attract and retain people who come to our country to work and bring significant benefits to the UK. With more Europeans continuing to arrive than leave, these figures show that claims of a ‘Brexodus’ are misguided,” he added.
“At the same time, there is no consent for uncontrolled immigration. We welcome the ongoing decrease in net migration levels and remain committed to bringing them down to sustainable levels, the tens of thousands."
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