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EU net migration falls further as Britain takes a leap into the unknown

28 Feb 2019

Continued uncertainty about the UK’s place in the EU was reflected in the latest net migration statistics, with EU net migration declining by 70% since the referendum and at the lowest level since 2009, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today.

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are the last net migration statistics to be released before March 29, the UK’s scheduled departure date from the EU. They show:

  • Negative (-15,000) net migration by people from the EU8 countries that joined the EU in 2004 (Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia). Note: Margins of error mean that this is not statistically different from zero.
  • Net migration levels from both the “old” EU-14 member states and Romania and Bulgaria – which joined in 2007 – have also fallen considerably from pre-referendum levels.
  • National Insurance Number (NINo) allocations to EU nationals fell by 33% from 2016 to 2018, from 626,000 to 419,000.

By contrast, the data show gradually rising levels of net migration from non-EU countries – reaching the highest levels since 2004. This is due to higher levels of work- and study-related migration.

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “The overall story the data tell on EU migration is clear: Britain is not as attractive to EU migrants as it was a couple of years ago. That may be because of Brexit-related political uncertainty, the falling value of the pound making UK wages less attractive, or simply the fact that job opportunities have improved in other EU countries. EU net migration happened to be unusually high in the run-up to the referendum, so at least some of this decline would probably have happened anyway even without Brexit.”

After Brexit, the Government has proposed significant new restrictions on future EU migration. Most EU citizens will only be eligible for short-term work visas of up to 1-2 years, with no route to settlement. However, this new system is not expected to be implemented until 2021 (regardless of whether the UK leaves the EU without a deal), and could be pushed back further if trade-related negotiations with the EU are extended beyond 2020.

The Government’s White Paper on post-Brexit immigration also hints at plans to do things differently for particular groups of workers – including researchers, entrepreneurs, creative industry workers and sportspeople, the self-employed, and seasonal agricultural workers – but there is no detail on the specifics.

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