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Net migration of EU citizens to UK turns negative in 2020

Net migration of EU citizens to the UK turns negative in 2020 after more Europeans are leaving the country than arriving, reversing the trend of previous years.

Around 94,000 EU citizens have left the UK compared to last year, marking a change in migration patterns since 2019, when 32,000 more people entered the UK from the continent.

“This decrease in immigration is most likely due to a combination of the effects of both pandemic caused by corona virus and Brexit,” said the Office for National Statistics.

Some 147,000 European nationals have left the UK in 2020, nearly three times the number that arrived the year before, according to ONS testing data released on Thursday.

Column chart '000 shows how net immigration of EU citizens to the UK has declined in 2020

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said the ONS data was “very similar to the envelope estimate”, but “completely plausible”.

Sumption explains that ONS figures do not include large numbers of short-term migrants in the UK, who may also have left in large numbers.

Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London, said net migration by EU citizens was likely “significantly higher than the ONS estimates”. Previously he was calculate a larger exodus of EU citizens.

Figures released separately by the Home Office on Thursday show that employers are more likely to hire workers from countries outside the EU, as cross-border recruitment picks up again in 2021.

The department said 205,528 work-related visas were issued in the year to September, with the majority being issued to skilled workers from India, the Philippines, the US and Nigeria. It added that more than 40% of successful visa applicants were from health and social care workers, double the rate allotted to that sector in the year before the pandemic.

Gerwyn Davies, a consultant with the Chartered Institute of Human Resources and Development, the body representing HR professionals, said: “ abrupt cessation of EU labor supply continues to cause shock waves for employers across all sectors” and will add to the pressure on hiring and wages.

The ONS interim estimates show that around 34,000 people have moved to the UK compared to leaving the UK in 2020, down from 271,000 in the previous year – by far the lowest figure since 2015. 2011 when comparative data are available.

'000 people column chart shows UK net migration has fallen dramatically in 2020

In the past, the International Passenger Survey was the primary source for estimating international migration to and from the UK, but that was suspended during the pandemic.

Since then, the ONS has developed measures of international migration using administrative data and statistical models based on the latest statistics.

“There is a high degree of uncertainty around them [the experimental data],” said the ONS.

The ONS said the range of uncertainty for net migration of EU nationals is from minus 180,000 to minus 8,000.

ONS population data, also released on Thursday, showed the EU-born UK population peaked at 3.6 million in the year ending June 2017 and fell after the referendum Brexit.

Sumption acknowledges that the figures confirm the “general view” that there is a net outflow of EU citizens in 2020, while warning “there is a great deal of uncertainty about the exact extent of that flow”. “.

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