Net long-term migration to the UK fell by more than 100,000 in the year after the EU referendum, with a drop in the number of EU citizens accounting for most of the decrease.
The measure – the difference between the numbers arriving and leaving the country for at least a year – was an estimated 230,000 in the 12 months to the end of June 2017, official figures show.
This was a fall of 106,000 compared with the record level of 336,000 in the previous year.
The Office for National Statistics said more than three quarters of the decrease was accounted for by EU citizens.
EU net migration fell by 82,000 to 107,000, which was described as a “statistically significant” drop.
Statisticians said the figures indicate net migration has returned to levels seen in 2014 following a peak in the middle of last year.
Nicola White, head of migration statistics at the ONS, said: “Overall more people are still coming to live in the UK than are leaving and therefore net migration is adding to the UK population.
“The first full year of data since the EU referendum vote in 2016 shows a decrease in the number of people coming to live in the UK and an increase in the number leaving, resulting in a fall in net migration of 106,000.
“Over three quarters of the fall in net migration was accounted for by EU citizens.
“The decline follows historically high levels of immigration and it is too early to say whether this represents a long-term trend.
“The number of people immigrating for a definite job has remained stable but there has been a 43% decrease in the number of people immigrating to look for work over the last year, especially for EU citizens.
“These changes suggest that Brexit is likely to be a factor in people’s decision to move to or from the UK – but decisions to migrate are complex and other factors are also going to be influencing the figures.”
The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said the sharp decline in net migration from Europe does not yet amount to a “Brexodus”.
“It is unclear whether this decline is purely due to Brexit or would have happened anyway.
“The data don’t tell us this for certain, but the referendum has certainly created a set of circumstances – such as a fall in the value of the pound, and increased uncertainty about future status – that could make the UK less attractive,” Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, said.
“Emigration is up but it’s not exactly a ‘Brexodus’ at this point – the vast majority of EU citizens are not leaving. This is not surprising since most have been in the UK for several years and have put down roots here.
“Despite the slowdown, there are also more EU citizens arriving than leaving, so the EU population in the UK is still growing – it’s just growing more slowly than in the recent past. In other words, developments in the past year may have slammed the brakes on EU net migration but have not put it into reverse.”