Net migration from the EU to the UK has fallen below 100,000 for the first time in almost five years, figures revealed on Thursday.
Figures, for the year ending September 2017, showed that 90,000 migrants entered the UK, the lowest number since March 2013, when it was 95,000.
The last time the measure was lower was in 2012, when it was 82,000.
Net migration is the difference between the number of people coming to live in the UK for at least a year and the number leaving for over a year. If net migration is above zero, as it has been since 1994, it means that migration is adding to the UK population.
The latest net EU migration figure was down from an estimated 165,000 in the previous year, a fall of 45%.
Overall net long-term international migration was 244,000 in the 12 months to September, a year-on-year drop of around 29,000, or 11%.
Brexit could well be a factor in people’s decision to move to or from the UK, but people’s decision to migrate is complicated and can be influenced by lots of different reasons.” Nicola White, Office for National Statistics head of international migration statistics
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said on Thursday that the Government was “committed to controlled and sustainable migration” and bringing net migration down to the tens of thousands.
“This means an immigration system that attracts and retains people who come to work and bring significant benefits to the UK but does not offer an open door to those who don’t,” she said.
“Net migration remains 29,000 lower than it was a year ago and once we leave the EU we will be able to put in place an immigration system which works in the best interest of the whole of the UK.
“At the same time, we have been clear that we want EU citizens already living here to have certainty about their future and the citizens’ rights agreement reached in December provided that.”
Government resettlement schemes
Refugee Action was “delighted” that the figures showed that more than 10,000 refugees who fled the crisis in Syria had now been welcomed to the UK through the Government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS).
In 2017, 4,832 refugees affected by the conflict came to the UK, bringing the total number resettled here through VRP to 10,538, which Refugee Action noted was “more than halfway” to the Government’s pledge of resettling 20,000 refugees by 2020.
Further to this, Britain’s long-term settlement programme, Gateway, welcomed 813 refugees last year. In total, under all of the available schemes, 6,212 people were resettled in the UK last year.
“We’re delighted the the Government is halfway towards meeting its pledge to welcome 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020,” Refugee Action chief executive Stephen Hale said.
He added that it was “unacceptable” that Britain’s other, long-term resettlement programme, Gateway, had remained “static at around 800 for almost a decade”.
“Expanding resettlement to welcome at least 10,000 refugees each year, regardless of which emergency they’ve fled, and giving them equal rights and support, would far better reflect the contribution we should be making and build on the success of the Syrian scheme post 2020,” Hale said.
ONS said net migration figures were now at a similar level to early 2014 and follows record levels of net migration during 2015 and early 2016.
EU net migration has fallen over the last year, as fewer EU citizens are coming to the UK and the number leaving the UK increased, according to the ONS.
However, there are still more EU nationals coming to the UK than leaving, statisticians added.
Nicola White said the figures show that non-EU net migration is now larger than EU net migration, however, migration of both non-EU and EU citizens “are still adding to the UK population”.
Commenting on the figures, Jonathan Portes, senior fellow at The UK in a Changing Europe, said after the Brexit vote the UK has become “significantly less attractive” to European migrants, both economic and psychological reasons, and is likely to be one of the factors explaining the UK’s growth slowdown relative to the rest of Europe and the world.”.
Portes, who is also a professor of Economic and Public Policy at King’s College London, added that falls in EU migration are already “adversely affecting some sectors”, like the NHS, where they have “aggravated existing staff shortages”.
“The reduced availability of EU workers also appears to be interacting with the UK’s absurd quota system for highly skilled migrants from outside the EU, which in turn means that we are denying visas for desperately needed specialist doctors from outside the EU. This illustrates, yet again, the inevitable unintended consequences of the government’s determination to centrally plan the UK labour market.”
Tim Thomas, Director of Employment and Skills policy echoed Portes’ comments regarding UK’s struggling workforce, saying the figures confirm what many businesses already know “steep falls in many EU nationals seeking work in the UK have continued, with some nationalities reaching historic lows”.
The UK government needs to shout, loudly, and in the direction of the EU that their citizens are needed, welcome and will enjoy long-term security by coming to the UK to work, study and settle. Without this, more will see the UK as a destination of risk not choice." Tim Thomas, Director of Employment and Skills
Thomas continued: “Immigration from non-EU nationals has outstripped workers coming to the UK from the EU, and for EU workers from older member states - France and Germany - is taking a nose-dive. Study is now the second most common reason for immigration, which is a cause for celebration for the UK’s outstanding Higher education sector, but does not provide the workers needed to drive the economy of UK plc now.”
CEO of Best of Britain Eloise Todd said the figures shows a “Brexodus is underway”.
“People are packing their bags and leaving the UK. This should worry everyone as Theresa May’s agenda to make Britain an inhospitable environment has come true due to Brexit.
“These EU nationals work in hospitals as nurses, care for our grandparents and help make Britain a more open, tolerant and united country.
“The government are pulling up the drawbridge as thousands of EU citizens worry about their future.”
Portes lamented that despite the obvious impacts of Brexit, the public “still know little or nothing about the future of the UK immigration system after Brexit”.
“It is long past time the government dropped the economically illiterate net migration target and its accompanying caps and quotas, which have damaged both the UK economy and confidence in the immigration system, and replaced it with a more liberal and market-driven system,” he said.
Resettled migrant case study
Nour Al Baarini, 25, arrived in Birmingham with his family in January 2016 after spending four years at a refugee camp in Jordan. He is now studying computer science at Birmingham City University and plans to launch his own software company.
“We lost everything in my country, our home and some of my friends,” Nour says. “I could not imagine I would come to England to complete my studies, to find everything so different here. I still imagine it’s a dream for me.”