Immigration by people looking for work in the United Kingdom fell sharply in 2017, according to the first population statistics released since the Brexit vote.
A total of 572,000 people immigrated to Britain between June 2016 and June 2017, a 12-percent decrease from the same period the year before, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) stated in a report released Thursday. The decline was statistically significant, ONS said, but well within the range of historical year-to-year changes in immigration levels.
However, the drop in the number of people immigrating to the U.K. for long-term work purposes was much sharper than the overall decline. Migrants “looking for work” in Britain fell from 130,000 in the year ending mid-2016 to 74,000 in the year ending mid-2017 — a 43-percent decrease.
The decline in economic migrants was largely driven by people from other European Union countries: 47,000 fewer EU citizens immigrated to Britain in the 12-month period ending June 2017 than in the year before.
“The number of people immigrating for a definite job has remained stable but there has been a 43 percent decrease in the number of people immigrating to look for work over the last year, especially for EU citizens,” ONS stated in its quarterly migration statistics bulletin. “These changes suggest that Brexit is likely to be a factor in people’s decision to move to or from the UK — but decisions to migrate are complex and other factors are also going to be influencing the figures.”
Immigration was a key factor in the June 2016 referendum that resulted in Britain’s historic decision to leave the EU. Many Brexit supporters expressed concern that high levels of immigration during the EU era had wrought negative economic and cultural changes that could only be reversed by leaving the bloc. (RELATED: UK Is Getting More Startup Investments After Brexit Than Before)
Brexit opponents claim any long-term decrease in immigration resulting from the separation will be disastrous for Britain’s economy. Some industries that rely heavily on immigrants, such as “social care” and agriculture, will face crippling labor shortages if Britain doesn’t maintain high levels of immigration post-Brexit, according to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
“Businesses want to help their EU staff navigate the process to stay in the U.K. and welcome the recent clarity around future rules,” a CBI spokesperson told The Independent. “But the significant number of EU migrants leaving is a reminder that the UK must remain an attractive place to work.”
Even with a sharp decline, immigration to the U.K. in the year ending mid-2017 was in line with the average of 569,000 over the previous five years. It remains to be seen if immigration levels will continue to fall, or if 2017’s figures were an aberration, according to ONS.
“The decline follows historically high levels of immigration and it is too early to say whether this represents a long-term trend,” the ONS migration bulletin stated.
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