Net migration of EU citizens to the UK has fallen to its lowest level since 2003 but this has been balanced by a slight increase in arrivals from the rest of the world, according to official statistics.
The drop in EU net arrivals was due largely to a sharp decline in the number of Europeans moving to the UK for work, continuing a trend since the June 2016 Brexit referendum.
EU net migration fell to 48,000 in the year to June 2019 from 74,000 a year earlier, the Office for National Statistics said on Thursday. It was 78 per cent below the peak of 218,000 in 2015.
Total net migration in the year to June 2019 stood at 212,000, with 609,000 people arriving and 397,000 emigrating. The figure is more than double the “tens of thousands” target introduced by previous Conservative governments but dropped by incumbent prime minister Boris Johnson.
The number of EU citizens moving to the UK for work dropped to 90,000 in the last year from a peak of 190,000 in the year ending June 2016. The number of EU citizens who did not have a definite job but hoped to find work after arriving in the UK fell especially sharply, to 22,000 from 82,000 three years earlier.
EU net migration was last at a lower level in 2003 when it stood at 15,000. The following year it jumped to 84,000 after the accession of 10 states to the EU, including Poland and Hungary.
Madeleine Sumption, director of Oxford university’s Migration Observatory, said the drop in EU migration may have been driven by factors including the falling value of the pound, better opportunities in other countries and Brexit uncertainty.
“The state of the economy, demand for workers by UK employers [and] conditions in countries of origin can have a big impact on migration, in some cases even more than changes in policy,” she said.
Net migration from non-EU countries increased to 229,000 in the year to June, up from 224,000 the previous year.
The Conservative government has pledged to introduce an Australian-style points-based system to bring skilled migrants to the UK, although it has not disclosed details, while Labour has said it will consider a continuation of free movement from the EU.
Matthew Fell, policy director at the CBI business lobby group, said the figures raised questions about how a future immigration system would operate.
“Focusing only on the ‘brightest and best’ misses the point, as shortages already exist at all skill levels against the backdrop of record employment,” he said. “Allowing firms to access the people and skills they need is as important as forging our future trading relationship with the EU, our biggest trading partner.”