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Brexit hits UK migration figures

5 March 20190 comments

Migration into Britain from the European Union has crashed to near-decade lows as uncertainty over Brexit makes the UK less attractive to workers from the other 27 EU countries.

But net migration from non-EU countries has risen to its highest level since 2004.

Recent data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics shows that the difference between those entering the country from the EU and those heading back fell in the year to September to 57,000, its lowest since 2009.

Migration from the EU has fallen from a peak of 189,000 in the year to June 2016, when Britain voted to leave the EU.

Immigration and its impact on wages and communities was one of the big issues behind the Brexit vote.

“The overall story the data tell on EU migration is clear: Britain is not as attractive to EU migrants as it was a couple of years ago,” it said

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said that the data clearly shows that “Britain is not as attractive to EU migrants as it was a couple of years ago”.

Under EU arrangements people can live and work anywhere in the bloc. That right was taken up enthusiastically in many of the former Soviet bloc countries after they joined the EU at different times since 2004.

After Brexit, or at least after any transition after the scheduled Brexit day on March 29, that freedom may effectively end.

But it’s not clear what a future immigration system in Britain will look like.

There is current debate that Brexit will be delayed or that a second referendum could be held on whether to leave the EU.

If and when Brexit does happen, uncertainty will be acute for companies that have, in recent years, relied on workers from the EU, while Britain works on new immigration rules.

“Many areas of the labor market, particularly sectors like hospitality, who are reliant on the free movement of EU workers, are going to have to adjust to lower migration well before the new system is in place,” one economic analysis says.

And decline in migration is not just because of Brexit.

Many EU economies, particularly those in the 19-country eurozone, have recovered economically since the global financial crisis leading to less of a need for many to search for work abroad.

The relative attraction of Britain financially has also diminished. After the Brexit vote, the pound’s value sank, lowering the value of any remittances.

Ms Sumption said that EU net migration was unusually high in the run-up to the referendum.

“So some of this decline would probably have happened anyway even without Brexit,” she said.

At the same time, migration to Britain from non-EU countries rose to its highest level since 2004, due in part to an influx of students.

Overall, net migration into the country stood at 283,000 in the year to September.


Laurie Nowell 

AMES Australia Senior Journalist