EU immigration to UK at five-year low

Net migration has risen since Brexit vote as more people arrive from outside the bloc

UK border controls at Gatwick airport
UK border controls at Gatwick Airport
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The number of EU citizens migrating to UK has fallen to its lowest level in five years, even as total net migration rose to almost 300,000 in 2017.

According to official figures from the Office for National Statistics, migration from the EU stood at 101,000 in the year to the end of December.

The number of EU citizens coming to the UK “looking for work” decreased by a third in the last year, but this was more than offset by an increase in the number coming from outside the EU, which is now at its highest level for 13 years.

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The number of new arrivals is almost three times the government target. During last year’s general election, Theresa May reiterated the contentious promise first made by her predecessor, David Cameron, to reduce overall net migration to the “tens of thousands”.

Lord Green of Deddington, chairman of Migration Watch UK, which campaigns for lower immigration, described the new figures as “very disappointing”.

“It’s time for the government to get serious about reducing immigration instead of caving in to every demand of the immigration lobby” he said.

The ONS data is for the first full calendar year since the Brexit vote, which The Daily Telegraph said showed the much-fabled Brexodus, the mass exodus of EU nationals to the continent, “is not happening”.

BBC home affairs correspondent, Danny Shaw, said that the surge in migration from countries outside Europe “suggests that even if the government takes greater control of EU migration after Brexit, the challenge of getting the right level of immigration from outside Europe remains”.

It comes as a new report warns the UK could lose track of tens of thousands of of EU migrants as they lose their right to remain in the UK after Brexit.

The paper from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford warns that unless the government develops a way of measuring the number of EU nationals who have received “settled status”, those who never apply could fall through the gaps.

Last month the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, unveiled the government’s long-awaited scheme for EU nationals currently living in the UK.

EU citizens and family members, believed to number around 3.5 million, who have been in the UK for five years by the end of 2020 will be able to apply for “settled status”, meaning they are free to continue living and working in the UK indefinitely.

The government said last week that it wanted to control the number of EU immigrants after Brexit to address the public's concerns about pressures on public services and wages for low earners.

But the Institute of Directors said businesses were struggling to find people with the skills they needed and urged Theresa May to keep the door open on immigration.

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