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Migration levels remain constant, despite drop in EU numbers

Although the recently reported drop in EU migration numbers clearly has implications against the Brexit backdrop, overall migration numbers to the UK have remained relatively constant. Figures released by the ONS show that EU net migration was 74,000 during the first half of the year. In comparison, non-EU net migration to the UK was 248,000 – the largest number since 2004. The ONS figures also show that the increase in non-EU migrants is mainly due to a significant influx of Asian people. Further analysis of the ONS UK migration data indicated that most new arrivals already had a job lined up and that a large number of the migrants were also coming to the UK to study.

What implications do these figures have for the UK economy?

Whether the reduction in EU migrants will become an issue post-Brexit remains to be seen. Industry leaders in some quarters, particularly those whose businesses employ a large number of EU workers, are concerned that skills shortages will be exacerbated in an already challenging marketplace. In comparison, others feel that there is a sufficient indigenous pool of labour, which can be supplemented by workers from outside the EU (as evidenced by the high number of non-EU workers with a “definite job” lined up) if necessary.

Should overseas students studying in the UK be defined as migrants?

Given the large number of migrants who are classified as overseas students, the question of whether these should be classified separately remains pertinent. Currently, overseas students are estimated to boost the UK economy by around 26 billion. Following graduation, they have no legal right to remain the UK, although can apply for leave in the same way as other migrants. Some groups argue that this policy is short-sighted, as, given the skills which university graduates can offer, overseas graduates could well contribute significantly to filling skills gaps in some industry sectors.

What these ONS figures tell us is that, although EU migration is presently in decline, the UK remains an attractive location for overseas migrants, with the academic opportunities available in the country being particularly appealing. It will be interesting to see how the migration figures for the latter half of the year compare, once ONS releases them.


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