Net migration has fallen below a quarter of a million — driven by an exodus of European workers following the Brexit referendum result.
Business leaders warned of skills shortages in the housing and construction industries after a dramatic fall in net migration from eastern and central European countries. Official figures released today showed net long-term immigration fell below a quarter of a million for the first time in nearly three years. There were 248,000 more arrivals than departures in 2016, down by 84,000 on 2015, said the Office for National Statistics. ONS statisticians highlighted an increase in emigration by EU citizens, up 31,000 to 117,000. The change was most striking among citizens from Poland and the other seven central and eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004. Immigration from these EU8 countries was down by 25,000 to 48,000, while the numbers leaving Britain shot up 16,000 to 43,000. The fall in overall numbers will be a relief to Theresa May who has promised to cut levels, but they remain well above her promise to restrict numbers to “tens of thousands”. However, there is mounting concern about a shortage of workers such as bricklayers and carpenters that threaten Mrs May’s promises of more housing and infrastructure projects.
Brian Berry, head of the Federation of Master Builders, said European labour was “a vital part” of the workforce and there were already shortages of carpenters and bricklayers: “Nowhere is this truer than in London, where migrant workers make up nearly half of the industry’s workforce,” he said. “Over the last decade, those workers have typically been coming in from eastern European countries. While it’s too early to say whether these latest figures demonstrate a permanent reversal of this trend, there is a concern that they do.” He called on Mrs May to give reassurances about the position of EU citizens after Brexit.
Overall, 588,000 people arrived in the UK last year who planned to stay, a fall of 43,000. The last time overall net migration, which covers the EU and the rest of the world, was below 250,000 was in the year to March 2014.
Edwin Morgan, deputy director of policy at the Institute for Directors, said: “The figures confirm once again how unlikely it is that the Conservatives will hit their tens of thousands target if they are re -elected. Instead of a proper plan for migration, this unachievable and counter-productive target will only further undermine public trust in the ability of politicians to sensibly control our borders.”