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EU migration remains at post-referendum lows and non-EU migration continues to rise, while impacts of post-Brexit policies on migration remain uncertain

27 Feb 2020

Latest migration data show a steady decline in EU immigration since 2016, in contrast to rising non-EU immigration; this means that non-EU countries are once again the main contributor to immigration in the UK by some distance, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today.

Latest data, released today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), estimate that non-EU immigration to the UK was 379,000 or 66% of non-British long-term immigration in the year ending September 2019, while EU citizens made up around 196,000 or 34%.

These figures come a week after the government set out plans for significant new restrictions on immigration from EU countries from January 2021, alongside a liberalization of work visas for non-EU workers.

Under the new plans, non-EU workers are no longer to be limited to graduate jobs, but could fill middle-skilled roles such as skilled trades, providing they meet English language and salary requirements (£25,600 per year in most cases, down from £30,000 under the current system). Contrary to previous expectations, the government said that there would be no dedicated work visas for the lowest-paid positions, where EU workers are currently overrepresented.

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “Immigration from EU countries has already fallen substantially since the referendum. Compared to current policy for EU citizens, the government’s immigration plan is much more restrictive, as well as more expensive for both employers and workers. That means the new policy should at least in theory significantly reduce EU immigration in the coming years—but migration levels are notoriously difficult to predict, and policy is not the only thing that affects migration.”

“The government plans to liberalize work visas for non-EU citizens, which may increase the number of non-EU workers, but exactly how much is hard to say. It’s important to remember that currently most non-EU citizens who move long term to the UK are actually not on work visas. Most come under other routes such as international study.”

“Because it’s so hard to predict future migration levels, the overall impact of the government’s policy plan on numbers is anyone’s guess.”

In YE September 2019, only an estimated 27% of non-EU citizens who moved long term to the UK said that they were coming for work, according to today’s ONS figures. The largest group of non-EU migrants is international students (51%), while 15% said they were moving for family reasons (including family members accompanying people on work or study visas).

The government has departed from the previous administration’s focus on ‘net migration’ (the balance between those arriving and those leaving) in the new policies announced last week, and instead commits to ‘reducing immigration’. This comes at a time when there is some concern about the accuracy of the international migration data.

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