Net migration to the UK was down in 2016, and many people fear this is only the beginning of what could greatly hurt the economy with Brexit around the corner.
In total, net migration, the number of people who move to the UK for at least a year minus the number of people who left, fell to about 248,000 in 2016, a drop of 84,000 from 2015. The decline is due to a mixture of fewer people coming to the country combined with more people leaving, especially EU citizens after Brexit.
Who’s Coming and Why
About half of the people coming to the UK were from the original EU countries, led by France, Germany, and Italy. Although there are a number of reasons why people move to the UK, the most common reasons among EU citizens in 2016 were for work—either for a job they had already secured or to look for a new job.
For people coming from outside the EU, the majority came for schooling or to join family members, although the number of foreigners coming to the UK for school also dropped significantly, especially students from Asian countries.
Who’s Leaving and Why
The Office for National Statistics says that 117,000 EU citizens left the UK in 2016, a large increase over the previous year and the highest estimate since 2009. The majority of EU citizens who left came from countries EU-8 countries including Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltics, and Hungary.
Part of the reason so many people are leaving is likely due to the British government’s refusal to commit to if EU citizens will be able to stay in the UK after Brexit officially takes effect. Currently, EU citizens receive most of the same rights as if they lived in their home countries.
There has also been an increase in hate crimes aimed at foreigners since the Brexit vote, especially in areas where a large majority of people voted to leave the EU, which could be causing people to leave.
Many experts fear the slowing migration numbers could lead to a skills shortage and hurt the economy. As EU nationals return to their home countries or other areas in the region, they are likely leaving positions that can’t be easily replaced. Migrants are also large contributors to the UK’s budget and added £20 billion to the country’s finances between 2000 and 2011, plus billions more in taxes than they received in welfare.
“Today’s migration figures underline the importance of immigration to the UK workforce and are a warning of the damage a significant reduction could do,” said Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the Institute of Directors. “Alarmingly, the fall in net migration is being driven as much by people leaving as by fewer arriving. This is a big worry for employers who risk losing key members of staff in positions that cannot easily be replaced from the home-grown pool available.”
Many experts agree that the decreasing migration numbers are a warning to businesses to prepare for even more changing in the labor market as Brexit gets closer. Many companies are already changing their investment, recruitment, and training policies to reflect the change. Most companies agree that they could better plan for the future if the government would announce the rights of EU citizens after Brexit.
Immigration is also a political issue with the UK’s upcoming election. Conservatives have pledged to control and reduce immigration in an effort to build a more cohesive society, while members of the Labour Party have promised “reasonable management of migration” with fair rules.
The UK faces many changes as Brexit gets closer and closer. With a changing workforce and demographics within the country, immigration could grow to become an even bigger issue and one that highlights the many obstacles that lie ahead.