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UK attracting more non-EU migrants, new report finds

26 May 20200 comments

Net migration to the UK from countries outside the European Union has risen to its highest level for 45 years, the country’s statistics agency says.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures an estimated 282,000 more non-EU citizens came to the UK than left in 2019, the highest since the information was first gathered in 1975.

The ONS says a rise in students from China and India has driven this.

In contrast, the number of people arriving from EU countries for work has “steadily fallen” to the lowest net levels in 16 years, it said.

In 2019, an estimated 49,000 more EU citizens came to the UK than left – down from the “peak levels” of more than 200,000 in 2015 and early 2016, the ONS says.

In total, an estimated 270,000 more people moved to the UK with an intention to stay for 12 months or more than left the UK in 2019.

The ONS says more than 677,000 people moved to the UK and about 407,000 people left.

ONS spokesman Jay Lindop said that overall migration levels had remained broadly stable in recent years, but new patterns have emerged for EU and non-EU migrants since 2016.

“For the year ending December 2019, non-EU migration was at the highest level we have seen, driven by a rise in students from China and India, while the number of people arriving from EU countries for work has steadily fallen,” Mr Lindop said.

“We know the coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on travel since December and new analysis today shows how international travel to and from the UK has decreased in recent months,” he said.

The ONS said overall migration levels had remained broadly stable” since the end of 2016, but patterns for EU and non-EU citizens “have followed different trends”.

“This in part reflects the different trends in immigration for employment and study, with EU migrants predominantly arriving for work-related reasons and non-EU migrants arriving for study,” the ONS report says.

Deputy Director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University Rob McNeil said it was too early to know how the pandemic will affect migration to the UK.

But he said it was clear that the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic “already reach right across the immigration system – from workers’ inability to travel to take up work and employers’ difficulty bringing seasonal workers to British fields, to sharp reductions in the number of people detained and deported”.

He said the crisis raised questions on whether employers in the UK will still want to recruit from overseas or if international students will still apply and take up places at British universities.

Business groups in the UK say businesses are currently prioritising safety and protecting jobs during the crisis period.

They called for more action on the UK Government’s long-promised new points-based immigration system.