Number of EU citizens moving to the UK at lowest level since 2012

by Ray Clancy on September 17, 2018

The number of people moving to live and work in the UK has fallen to the lowest level since 2012, official statistics show.

But there were still 90,000 more EU citizens arriving than leaving in the 12 months to March 2018, the data from the Office for National Statistics also shows.

London Brexit

(By melis/

Overall, the number of EU citizens coming to the UK to work has continued to decrease. The main decrease between 2016 and 2017 was in EU citizens looking for work, but much of the most recent decrease can be accounted for by a fall in the number coming to the UK for a definite job over the last year, particularly citizens of EU15 countries.

The figures show that overall around 270,000 more people are coming to the UK than leaving, so net migration is continuing to add to the UK population. Net migration has been broadly stable since peak levels seen in 2015 and 2016.

‘Looking at the underlying numbers we can see that EU net migration has fallen, as fewer EU citizens are arriving in the UK, and has now returned to the level last seen in 2012,’ said Nicola Rogers of the ONS’s Centre for Migration.

‘Much of the recent fall is in people from the western European countries that make up the EU15 group coming to the UK for a definite job. Previously we had seen a decline in the number of EU citizens coming who were looking for work, however, this seems to have stabilised,’ she added.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May has re-iterated that the goal of bringing migration down below 10,000 a year still exists and there have been hints that she wants to be even tougher on numbers coming from the EU.

It has been reported that European Union officials are becoming more accepting of the fact that the UK wants to curb numbers and that will tie in with whatever Brexit deal is agreed. It is also said that EU officials are becoming more nervous about the UK leaving in March 2019 with no deal and they want to avoid that scenario.

It has been suggested to those carrying out the negotiations for the EU that they will have to accept curbs on free movement between EU states and the UK. This comes at a time when it is suggested that May plans to unveil a new post Brexit immigration system at the annual Tory Party conference in a few weeks’ time.

But not everyone is happy with the idea of more curbs, particularly certain industries like constructions which rely on a high number of skilled workers from EU countries.

Indeed, Matthew Fell, policy director of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said that the latest ONS figures are a concern. ‘News that EU net migration has fallen to its lowest level since 2012 will be a real concern for businesses that are already struggling to fill vacancies and plug skills gaps,’ he explained.

‘With record high employment already impacting ability to hire, businesses face a double whammy that could stunt their ability to grow and damage their global competitiveness. With changes to immigration policy yet to kick-in, the figures highlight the importance of getting the post-Brexit system right,’ he pointed out.

‘The system that replaces free movement needs to be both open and controlled. It must ensure that the UK is an attractive place where people want to come and work,’ he added.

According to Heather Rolfe, associate research director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, the UK’s new immigration policy needs to be sorted out as soon as possible. ‘The strong signal from British politicians is that free movement will end, and this will be being picked up by EU citizens interested in exercising their current rights,’ she said.

‘The principles of new immigration policies need to be established soon, and these need to take account not only of the needs of employers and public opinion, but the preferences of people considering migrating to the UK to work in our key industries and services,’ she added.

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