The net migration of EU nationals to the UK turned negative after the number of Europeans leaving the UK in 2020 overtook the number of arrivals, reversing the trend from the previous year.
Around 94,000 more EU nationals left the UK than they arrived in the UK last year, marking a turning point in immigration patterns since 2019, 32,000 more than those who moved to the UK from continental Europe.
“These immigration declines are most likely the result of the combined effects of the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit,” the National Statistical Office said.
About 147,000 Europeans left the UK in 2020, according to data from ONS released on Thursday.
Madeleine Sumption, director of the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, said the ONS data were “the latter part of the envelope estimate” but were “generally plausible.”
Sumption explained that ONS figures didn’t include the UK’s large number of short-term migrants, who may have also left in large numbers.
Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College in London, said the net immigration of EU citizens would be “significantly higher than what ONS estimated”. He previously counted more EU country exits.
Employers are more likely to hire workers outside the EU as cross-border hiring rises again in 2021, figures released separately by the Interior Ministry on Thursday.
The department said 205,528 work-related visas had been issued by September, most of them to skilled workers in India, the Philippines, the United States and Nigeria. He added that more than 40% of successful visa applicants came from health and social workers.
Gerwyn Davies, adviser to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, an organization representing HR professionals, said: “The sudden disruption to the supply of EU workers continues to shock employers in all sectors and will increase employment and wage pressures.”
ONS tentative estimates show that around 34,000 more people immigrated to the UK in 2020 than they left the UK, down from 271,000 in the previous year, and the lowest since 2011 when comparable data were available.
Historically, international passenger surveys have been the primary source of estimating international migration to and from the UK, but that stopped with the onset of the pandemic.
Since then, ONS has developed international migration measures using administrative data and statistical modeling based on up-to-date statistics.
“There is a high level of uncertainty around them. [the data]’ said ONS.
ONS said the net migration uncertainty for EU nationals ranges from -180,000 to -8,000.
The UK’s EU-born population peaked at 3.6 million in the year ending June 2017 and is declining since the Brexit referendum, according to ONS population data released on Thursday.
While the figures confirm the “general view” that there was a net outflow of EU citizens in 2020, Sumption warns that “there is tremendous uncertainty about exactly how large that outflow will be”.
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