Net migration has remained stable at 273,000 in the past year, but the headline figure masks a continued decline in the net entry of EU migrants ahead of Brexit and a significant increase in arrivals from outside Europe.
Figures released on Thursday by the Office for National Statistics showed that 74,000 more EU citizens came to the UK than left in the year to June, which is the lowest estimate since 2012.
In particular, the number of EU citizens coming to Britain for work has continued to fall — especially the number of nationals from countries such as France, Germany and Spain arriving with a definite job. Overall, EU net migration has fallen by 115,000 since the Brexit referendum in June 2016.
By contrast, non-EU net migration reached its highest level since 2004, with 248,000 more non-EU citizens arriving than leaving the UK. This was driven by increases in immigration for both work and study, particularly of Asian nationals.
Jay Lindop, head of international migration at the Office for National Statistics, said while net migration has remained level since its peak in 2016, there were very different patterns for EU and non-EU migration.
“Due to increasing numbers arriving for work and study, non-EU net migration is now at the highest level since 2004. In contrast, EU net migration, while still adding to the population as a whole, is at the lowest since 2012.”
Although net migration has fallen since the UK voted to leave the EU, it remains far above Theresa May’s target of cutting the number to the “tens of thousands”.
EU citizens in the UK still face uncertainty given that the “settled status” scheme that will ensure their right to stay after Brexit is being piloted and will not to open to wider applications until next year. Meanwhile, a white paper setting out the UK’s future immigration policy with the EU has been delayed by over a year.
Home secretary Sajid Javid said earlier this week he “hoped” the white paper would be published in December but could not guarantee this. Whitehall officials have suggested the paper is being held up by disagreements within Cabinet, with the chancellor and business secretary opposing the prime minister’s drive for a more restrictive regime.