Net migration from EU drops below 100,000 for first time since 2013

Alan McGuinness, Political Reporter

Net migration from the EU to the UK has fallen below 100,000 for the first time in almost five years.

New statistics show the estimated figure stood at 90,000 in the year ending September 2017, the first time it has dropped under six figures since the 12 months ending March 2013.

This is a significant drop from an estimated 165,000 in the previous year, a fall of 45%. The last time the figure was lower was in 2012, when it stood at 82,000.

Nicola White, head of international migration statistics at the Office for National Statistics, said: "Brexit could well be a factor in people's decision to move to or from the UK, but people's decision to migrate is complicated and can be influenced by lots of different reasons."

Prime Minister Theresa May has so far stood by her predecessor David Cameron's pledge to reduce net migration from around the world - the difference between the number of people coming to and leaving Britain - to the "tens of thousands".

The latest ONS figures show this currently stands at 244,000, a year-on-year drop of around 29,000, or 11%. This is a similar level to early 2014 and follows record highs during 2015 and early 2016.

The statistics also revealed:

:: Falls in net migration from Romania, Bulgaria, France, Spain, Italy and Germany, as well the eight eastern and central European countries which joined the bloc in 2004
:: EU nationals are leaving the UK in their largest numbers for almost a decade, with 130,000 leaving in the year to September
:: Non-EU migration is now significantly more than EU net migration, having increased to 205,000

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said the Government is committed to "controlled and sustainable migration".

"This means an immigration system that attracts and retains people who come to work and bring significant benefits to the UK but does not offer an open door to those who don't," she said.

"Net migration remains 29,000 lower than it was a year ago and once we leave the EU we will be able to put in place an immigration system which works in the best interest of the whole of the UK.

"At the same time, we have been clear that we want EU citizens already living here to have certainty about their future and the citizens' rights agreement reached in December provided that."

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the statistics showed the Tories had made a "mess" of immigration.

She said: "The Government's failed net migration target continues to be breached. Net migration is still more than double the target, which has never once been met.

"At the same time, the Home Office is turning away qualified doctors despite the recruitment shortage in the NHS.

"This deficit hurts us all and highlights the immigration mess the Government has created."

James Stewart, head of Brexit at KPMG UK, said: "What we're hearing from clients is that as a result of the uncertainty around Brexit, many are now struggling to recruit and retain to lower skilled positions, which have often been filled by EU citizens in recent years.

"The construction and hospitality industries are particularly affected and many clients have the ready supply of people as a top risk as we approach March 2019."