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Net migration of Eastern Europeans halves in a year

24 Aug 2017

The economic and social consequences of the Brexit vote have led to a sharp fall in EU net migration, driven by a 50% fall in net migration of people from Eastern Europe, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today.

Figures released today (August 24 2017) by the Office for National Statistics show that overall net migration in the year to March 2017 declined to 246,000 – the lowest level in three years. This was driven in particular by increasing emigration by Eastern Europeans. The new data show that net migration from the “A8” countries that joined the EU in 2004 – of which Poland is the largest – fell particularly sharply, from 39,000 to 7,000. Net migration of A8 citizens combined with Romanians and Bulgarians, the so-called the “A2” countries, fell from 100,000 to 50,000 in a year.

A series of social and economic factors may explain the fall in Eastern European net migration to the UK: the fall in the value of the pound – which has reduced the value of money earned in the UK relative to other countries; the lack of clarity about EU migrants long-term status in the UK; and the UK’s overall economic performance relative to several other high-income EU member states, and reports of increases in xenophobic incidents after the referendum are all likely to have played a role.

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “The significant drop in net migration of Eastern Europeans is an interesting development in the Brexit debate. Many UK industries have become reliant on relatively low-cost labour from these countries and are expressing concern about how they would adjust to stricter migration policies after Brexit. The recent fall in Eastern European net migration is smaller than the declines we would expect if free movement is abolished, so is really just a taste of what is likely to come next.”

There have already been reports of a fall in applications by EU nationals to work in key roles in the UK, such as nursing, while industries such as agriculture and hospitality have raised concerns about access to staff.

Other data released today by the Office for National Statistics used new “exit check” data to examine whether large numbers of international students were overstaying their visas, after concerns had been raised following previous data releases. The exit check data suggest that this is not the case and that the vast majority of international students (97%) arriving after April 2015 whose visas expired in 2016/17 were recorded as having left the UK.

Sumption added: “There has been much debate about taking students ‘out of the net migration target’, but this is rather difficult if we don’t know what net migration of students actually is. The reality is that, even if overall net migration is measured accurately, the UK’s net migration statistics are not currently precise enough to allow us to target specific sub-groups like students – as the Migration Observatory has been pointing out for some time.”


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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