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The Office of National Statistics has revealed that migration from the EU is at its lowest level since 2012. This has prompted warnings from business groups that the UK could be facing a skills shortage.
The data showed that annual net migration, or the difference between the number of EU citizens coming to the UK and leaving, had dropped to 90,000. This is the first time it has dropped below 100,000 since 2012. Tej Parikh, a senior economist at the Institute of Directors noted that this is a “particularly strained” time for the labour market.
Parikh said: “With vacancies at an all-time high and unemployment at a historic low, companies are scrambling for a shrinking pool of talent.” However, this shift was seen as a positive move for Caroline Nokes, the UK’s immigration minister. This is in line with the government’s objectives to bring net immigration down to “tens of thousands” per year, and Nokes pointed out that overall net migration was down by 29,000 compared to last year.
However, it’s important to understand that this is net migration and that the numbers of EU migrants coming to the UK is still very strong. During the 12 months to last September, 220,000 EU nationals moved to the UK, while 130,000 left. This gives us a net migration level of 90,000, down from 133,000 in 2016.
Higher education institutions and doctors have been campaigning to have international students and NHS workers removed from net migration figures, which the prime minister has refused to acknowledge. Theresa May has ignored calls for these changes since her time as Home Secretary.
Some are criticising coverage as it doesn’t highlight that fact that the number of people arriving in the UK is still strong, however, others are pointing to the numbers leaving as evidence of the impact on Brexit negotiations. People from the eight Eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 are most likely to leave. Thr figures showed that 51,000 citizens arrived from those countries, while 39,000 left.
What we are seeing is changes in attitudes towards wanting to live and work in the UK. In 2012, the UK was an attractive option for individuals from EU member states, but with the uncertainty of Brexit on the horizon, it’s become less of a draw. For employers looking to recruit workers to fill roles, they are now looking outside of the EU. This has led to strains on the Tier 2 visa allocations, with the cap being reached for three months running.