There have been concerns raised about the status of European Union citizens in the UK after the Brexit process is complete with the Government refusing to give an indication of what it will be.
But the referendum announcement a year ago did not stop people moving to Britain from the EU with the latest official data showing that there was a surge in workers arriving which took total immigration to its highest ever level of 650,000 in a year.
The figures published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) also show that net migration, the difference between those entering the UK and those leaving, reached its third highest level of 335,000, up 8,000 from the previous quarter.
It means that in the run up to the historic vote to leave the EU, the UK has consistently missed the Government target of cutting net immigration to 100,000 and could be an indication that Brexit negotiations, due to start when Article 50 is triggered sometime this month, could seek a robust deal in terms of reducing EU expat numbers.
While 284,000 EU migrants came to the UK in the year to June, only 95,000 left in the same period. Net migration from the EU rose by 9,000 to reach 189,000, the equivalent to adding a county the size of Herefordshire to the UK in one year.
‘Net migration remains around record levels, but it is stable compared with recent years. Immigration levels are now among the highest estimates recorded and the inflow of EU citizens is also at historically high levels and similar to the inflow of non-EU citizens; there were also increases in the number of asylum seekers and refugees,’ said ONS statistician Nicola White.
‘Immigration of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens continues the upward trend seen over the last few years and in 2015 Romania was the most common country of previous residence. The main reason people are coming to the UK is for work, and there has been a significant increase in people looking for work particularly from the EU,’ she added.
Indeed, work remains the most common reason for long term immigration. In the year ending June 2016 some 189,000 EU citizens arrived in the UK for work, the highest estimate recorded.
Around 108,000, or 57%, said they had secured a job to go to before they came while 82,000 EU immigrants arrived looking for work, a record number and a ‘statistically significant’ increase compared to the previous year, White explained.
The jump included a rise in the number of citizens arriving to seek employment from the EU 15 group of nations consisting of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Spain and Sweden.
Responding to the figures, the Government insisted Brexit negotiations will allow it to bring down numbers once Britain leaves the EU in the spring of 2019.
‘The British people have sent a very clear message that they want more control of immigration and we are committed to getting net migration down to sustainable levels in the tens of thousands,’ said Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill.
‘There is no consent for uncontrolled immigration, which puts pressure on schools, hospitals and public services. That is why reducing the number of migrants coming to the UK will be a key priority of our negotiations to leave the EU,’ he pointed out.
‘Further to this, we continue to reform non-EU immigration routes to ensure we attract the best and brightest, who benefit and contribute to this country. But there is more to do as we build an immigration system that delivers the control we need,’ he added.