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EU net migration continues its decline as data doubts persist

16 Jul 2018

Net migration of EU citizens to the UK has continued to decline post-Brexit, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics. However doubts about the precision of passenger survey data—which the ONS say has been ‘stretched beyond its purpose’—highlight the importance of not focusing too much on a single data source, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said.

Today’s statistics were released by the Office for National Statistics after a six week delay following a processing error that was uncovered earlier in the year. They showed net migration at 282,000 in 2017 – with EU net migration at its lowest since the post economic crisis figures from 2012-13.

Non-EU net migration increased, but this was primarily driven by an anomaly in the measurement of student arrivals. That said, there was a measurable increase of 21,000 in non-EU work migration, most of which involves skilled workers.

Long-term immigration from the EU was 240,000 while emigration of EU citizens rose to a record high of 139,000. At less than 4% of the EU citizen population of 3.8 million in 2017, however, increased emigration still falls short of a ‘Brexodus’.

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “The data suggest that the UK is still an attractive country, but its allure for EU migrants has declined considerably over the past couple of years. Factors like the lower value of the pound and uncertainty about the implications of Brexit may well have contributed. But it’s not all about Brexit: EU net migration was unusually high just before the referendum, and it’s likely that some of the decline would have happened anyway even if the UK had not voted to leave.”

One factor that is thought to have driven higher net migration from EU countries before the referendum—unemployment in other EU countries—has since weakened. Between 2013 and 2017, unemployment fell by 8.9 percentage points (pp) in Spain, 7.4pp in Portugal, and 5.4pp in Poland, according to Eurostat figures.

Previously released data have also been revised, and the ONS has made a clear statement that basing analysis and policy decisions on the IPS alone is not sensible.

Sumption added: “The UK has a rich array of migration statistics, but our policy debate focuses on the measure that is arguably the most problematic for thinking about policy—the net migration figures. In other countries, data on visas and settlement get more attention and net migration is barely discussed. Net migration figures are useful for some purposes but they were never designed to be an in-depth measure of how migration policies are working.”

Earlier this week the Migration Observatory also highlighted the need for improved systems to measure the success of the settled-status registration process to avoid leaving EU citizens as ‘illegal residents’.


For further information contact:

Rob McNeil, Head of Media and Communications, The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.
e: robert.mcneil@compas.ox.ac.uk; Tel: 01865 274568; Mob: 07500 970081

Notes for editors:

About the Migration Observatory

  • Based at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford, the Migration Observatory provides independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK, to inform media, public and policy debates, and to generate high quality research on international migration and public policy issues. The Observatory’s analysis involves experts from a wide range of disciplines and departments at the University of Oxford.
  • The Migration Observatory is funded by: the Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Unbound Philanthropy, and has also received support from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
  • The Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford conducts high quality research in order to develop theory and knowledge, inform policy-making and public debate, and engage users of research within the field of migration. For further details see the COMPAS website: compas.ox.ac.uk/.

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