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EU immigration continues to fall, but data are marred by uncertainty

24 May 2019

Latest migration data show falling EU immigration, while net migration remains stable at 258,000 for 2018. But this closely watched data source is not telling us the whole story and politicians should be careful before jumping to conclusions about what is driving overall net migration, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today.

The data show EU8 immigration at the lowest levels (35,000) since the expansion of the EU in 2004, while non-EU immigration has remained broadly stable (324,000).

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “It’s clear that the UK has become less attractive for EU citizens over the past few years, whether because of the lower value of the pound or the uncertainty around Brexit. But Brexit doesn’t seem to have put off non-EU migrants: the UK continues to be a top destination for international students and skilled workers from outside the EU.”

However, there is considerable uncertainty about what is driving the net figures and how accurate they are. In today’s release, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) warns readers that different data sources tell different stories about EU and non-EU net migration (see editors’ notes for details). ONS is in the middle of a programme of work to investigate why this is, with results expected later in the year.

Sumption added: “It is not possible to say why the current figure for non-EU net migration remains relatively high or whether this figure is accurate. Most non-EU migrants arriving for work and study are on time-limited visas and we know that large shares of them go home within a few years, so the high figure for non-EU net migration is surprising. ONS is working on finding out why but at present it is still very difficult to say.”

Notes for editors:

More detailed statistics:

  • The number of National Insurance Numbers allocated to EU nationals fell by 33% between 2016 and 2018, from 626,000 to 419,000.
  • The labour market statistics published earlier this month showed that growth in the number of EU-born workers in the labour market had slowed since the pre-referendum period. Looking at data for the first quarter, the labour market statistics showed growth of only 66,000 EU-born workers from 2017 to 2019, compared to growth of 394,000 in the previous two years (2015-2017).
  • A July 2018 ONS report confirmed that the net migration figures are not properly capturing emigration of non-EU students and that estimated non-EU net migration was higher than Home Office records on entries and exits suggested. An ONS work plan has been put in place to understand why the net migration figures are not consistent with other data sources, with results expected later in the year.
  • Different data sources measure different things in different ways, and are usually not expected to line up perfectly. This makes it difficult to confirm why discrepancies exist between data sources.

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