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Responding to uncertainty? EU citizens scramble for permanent residence while others decide to go home

23 Feb 2017

Latest migration data show a sharp increase in EU citizens receiving permanent residence in the UK, while others left the UK in growing numbers. However the data do not yet provide clear evidence that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union has had an effect on UK net migration, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today.

Today’s Migration Statistics Quarterly Report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) provides net migration data for the year to September 2016 – the first release to contain a full quarter after the 2016 Brexit referendum. The data record net migration at 273,000; this is the lowest level reported since the year ending June 2014 but the decline is not statistically significant and most of the data are still for the three quarters before the referendum.

Other data published today include new Home Office statistics on permanent residence cards issued to EU citizens and their family members. This number more than tripled from 18,000 in 2015 to 65,000 in 2016. There was a sharp acceleration in permanent residence grants in the last quarter of the year, with 32,000 cards granted – a seven-fold increase compared to a year earlier.

Last year, the Migration Observatory highlighted the bureaucratic challenge involved in providing residence rights to more than 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK.

The net migration data show that the split between EU and non-EU net migration has remained relatively constant at 50/50 – net migration of both EU and non-EU citizens is at 165,000. However the EU migration data shows new developments, with an increase in emigration by A8 nationals (Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Estonia) and an increase in immigration of A2 nationals (Romania and Bulgaria).

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “It is still to early to tell whether the net migration data represent the beginning of a downward post-referendum trend. However, it is interesting to see that emigration of A8 nationals increased significantly at the same time as many EU nationals were scrambling to secure their status in the UK. Uncertainty is clearly a key issue for EU nationals in the current environment.

“At the moment the most immediate migration issue facing the Government is less net migration, and more the issue of how they will provide residence documents to 3.5 million EU citizens already living in the UK. Exactly how this process will work is not likely to be resolved until EU negotiations get underway, but today’s data show that EU citizens are increasingly keen to get some kind of paperwork in hand sooner rather than later.”

A guide to interpreting migration statistics after the EU referendum was published by the Migration Observatory in December last year, and was updated earlier in February. It is available at here

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