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A new normal? Net migration levels off, but remains at record high levels

25 Feb 2016

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New data show that annual net migration to the UK stood at 323,000 in the year to September 2015. While this is lower than the previous two quarters, it means that net migration has now exceeded 300,000 for almost two years, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today.

The new data show that in the year to September 2015 nearly half of non-British net migration (172,000) was EU citizens. Non EU citizens accounted for 191,000 while net migration of UK citizens was negative (-40,000).

The two largest categories of immigration to the UK were EU citizens arriving for work (30% of inflows) and non-EU citizens coming to study (21%). Other categories were smaller, such as non-EU work (12%) and non-EU family migration (8%).

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “Free movement within the EU is not the only driver of recent high levels of net migration, but it has played an important role. While EU migration is a defining issue in the referendum debate, the truth is that it’s difficult to predict EU migration levels with confidence in either the stay or leave scenario. Whether Brexit would reduce migration will depend in part on the treaties and policies that followed, and these cannot be known in advance.”

The last time net migration briefly exceeded 300,000 was in the year ending June 2005, when non-EU net migration was at a historical peak of just over 250,000 and EU enlargement had enabled a sharp increase in arrivals from Eastern Europe.

Sumption added: “Sustained high levels of net migration raise the question of whether we are experiencing a temporary peak or a ‘new normal’ in the UK. In the short term, the UK remains an attractive destination with low unemployment and robust job growth so there’s no reason to expect a dramatic change to migration levels. In the long run, migration is much harder to predict. It will depend on many different factors from future policy changes to economic growth in other countries.”

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