Net migration to the UK has fallen sharply following last year’s Brexit vote, as more EU citizens left the country and fewer people arrived from overseas to seek work.
In the year to March 2 net migration to the UK was 246,000, according to official estimates released on Thursday. This was down from 327,000 in the year to March 2016, although only a slight decrease from the figure recorded in the calendar year 2016.
More than half the change in the year to March was driven by a drop in arrivals of EU nationals, the Office for National Statistics said. The ONS said 17,000 people from the so-called “EU8” countries of central and eastern Europe had left the UK in the year to March, which it said was “statistically significant”.
Stephen Clarke of the Resolution Foundation pointed out that while the year-on-year net migration figures were important because they accounted for seasonal changes in the labour market, the fact that the March figure was only slightly below the December one hinted that “the situation may have now stabilised”.
“The lion’s share of the falls so far came immediately after the referendum, so we’ve seen a lot of sharp contractions already,” he said. “The question is whether we are at a new level of net migration or whether it is going to fall further.”
Most of the foreign nationals who entered the UK looking for work — out of a total of 275,000 — had a definite job. There was significant fall in the number of overseas citizens who entered the country seeking work, however, from 87,000 in the year to March 2016 to 39,000 in the year to March 2017.
The total number of immigrants to the UK was 588,000 in the year to March, while 342,000 people left the country, according to the ONS data.
Theresa May, the prime minister, has a goal of getting net migration down to the “tens of thousands” annually.
Since the Brexit vote last June, many British businesses have voiced fears of a brain drain as they lose access to skilled European workers.
Profit growth at UK companies is also expected to fall by more than half in 2018, an FT review of analysts’ forecasts has found.
Later on Thursday the Home Office will launch its review into the impact of EU and non-EU students on the UK labour market.
Last month the UK statistics watchdog said that official data suggesting about 100,000 foreign students stay illegally in the UK each year after their courses ended were “potentially misleading”.
The prime minister has also resisted excluding international students from her net migration target, putting her in opposition with several members of her cabinet.