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The Office for National Statistics Releases Quarterly Migration Report

Despite the major changes being made to the immigration system, the latest Office for National Statistics migration report shows that positive net migration into the UK has remained steady. This has been driven by a gradual rise in non-EU migration, with the year ending December 2019 witnessing a fall in the number of EU citizens entering the UK.

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    ONS quarterly report shows rise in non-EU inward migration

    The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has today (21st of May 2020) released its most recent migration statistics quarterly report. 

    The report is described as a summary of the ‘latest official long-term international migration statistics for the UK for the year ending December 2019’, and draws upon data from the Home Office, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

    Arguably the central takeaway from the report is that the UK’s overall net migration figure has remained broadly stable, with long-term international migration continuing to add to the UK population.

    ‘Net migration’ refers to the difference between the number of emigrants (people leaving the country) and immigrants (people entering the country) in an annual period. In order to build up a clearer picture of migration into the UK, the ONS focuses on ‘long-term international migration’, classing a long-term immigrant as a person intending to remain in the country for at least 12 months.

    In the year ending December 2019, the number of people who moved to the UK- with an intention to stay for 12 months or more- exceeded the number of people emigrating from the UK by approximately 270,000, a positive net migration figure that falls broadly in line with preceding figures.

    The report gives the total number of long-term immigrants as 677,000, and the total number of emigrants as 407,000.

    In light of the UK’s departure from the EU and the impending end of the transition period, one might have expected the ONS’ statistics to show a marked fall in inward migration. With the new points-based immigration system scheduled to be operational by 2021, the immigration process for EU citizens is set to become considerably more difficult.

    However, a closer look at the figures reveals that Brexit is having an impact. Whilst overall net migration has remained broadly stable, this has been driven by an increase in the number of non-EU citizens entering the UK.

    The report estimates that 282,000 non-EU long-term immigrants entered the UK in the year ending 2019- the highest amount since this information was first recorded.

    Over the same period, the number of EU immigrants fell to 49,000, the lowest annual amount since 2004.

    These numbers show that inward EU migration has fallen as expected, but the overall positive net migration level has been sustained by a continued rise in non-EU net migration, now at its highest level since information by citizenship was first recorded in 1975.

    Since 2016- the year of the EU referendum- EU net migration has gradually fallen. Although this change has been primarily precipitated by a decrease in the number of EU citizens entering the UK, it has also been influenced by a gradual increase in the number of EU citizens exiting the country.

    The reasons for migration are also of note. When EU net migration first began decreasing in 2016, it was largely tied to free EU citizens moving to the UK to look for work. But since 2018, there has also been a fall in the number of people arriving with a definite job.

    In contrast, the rise in non-EU migration has been directly linked to non-EU citizens coming to the UK for work reasons, a trend that began in 2013 according to various data sources.

    Since 2016, it has also been a by-product of a gradual increase in the number of non-EU citizens coming to the UK for formal study purposes. Driven predominantly by an influx of higher-education students from China and India, it is a trend reflected in all available study sources, with sponsored study visa applications for universities at their highest level since records began in June 2011.

    As the number of non-EU citizens entering the UK has increased, the number leaving the country has remained largely the same.

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