Figures released today by the Office for National Statistics show that net migration of EU nationals to the UK was 74,000 in the year ending June 2018. Net migration is the number of people entering the country minus the number leaving it.
This is the lowest since the year ending 2012 and is 60% lower, or 115,000 fewer people arriving, than in the year ending June 2016.
Here we look in detail at how migration from the EU to the UK has changed since the Brexit referendum.
UK net migration has fallen for EU nationals
Net migration of EU nationals has been falling since the UK’s referendum on membership of the EU in June 2016. The point at which it began to decline was also the highest recorded level of net migration of EU nationals (190,000).
The chart above shows the UK’s official estimates of long-term international migration, which capture the flow of people migrating to and from the country for a period of 12 months or more.
Mainly driven by a fall in the number coming to look for work
The main driver of falling net migration from the EU is a decline in the number of EU nationals whose main reason for coming to the UK is ‘looking for work’. In the year ending June 2018, 37,000 EU nationals came to the UK to search for work, around 45,000 fewer than or about half as many as in 2016.
The biggest change has been among ‘EU8’ nationals
The fall has also been largest among ‘EU8’ nationals, which is the group of Central and Eastern European countries which joined the EU in 2004. Net migration among people from these countries went from 42,000 in 2016 to -14,000 in 2018. When net migration is negative, there are more people emigrating from the country than migrating into it.
Grants of citizenship or permanent residence to EU nationals have gone up
These charts provide a picture of the flow of migration. During the same period, there was also a spike in applications for permanent residence by EU nationals living in the UK. There was also an increase, although smaller in scale, in the number of grants of British citizenship to former nationals of an EU country.
Since the end of June 2018, there have been at least 280,000 grants of permanent settlement to EU nationals – more than five times as many as in the ten years prior to that combined. There were also 75,000 grants of citizenship to EU nationals in the two years following the referendum, which was about three times the annual rate that it had been previously.
There has not been much change in British nationals emigrating
The number of British nationals emigrating to the EU has hardly changed since the referendum. This data is available only on an annual basis. Around 38,000 British nationals migrated from the UK to another EU country in 2017, 3,000 fewer than in the previous year and still lower than the peak of 74,000 in 2006.
Overall, emigration of British nationals has not changed substantially either and was at 109,000 in 2017.
A note on these figures: With the exception of the figures in the fourth chart, all the figures presented here are estimates, which come with a level of uncertainty. The ONS, which produces the estimates, provides a confidence interval, which is a buffer of usually a few thousand either side of the central estimate. For example, the number of EU nationals who migrated to the UK looking for work in the year ending June 2018 was 37,000 or, including the confidence interval, between 26,000 and 44,000.
Georgina Sturge is a Statistical Researcher specialising in social and general statistics at the House of Commons Library.
The Commons Library Insight ‘Migration statistics: where do they come from?’ explains how migration flows are measured.
Charts 1 and 3
ONS, Provisional Long-Term International Migration estimates, Table 1
ONS, 2.01a LTIM Citizenship 1991-2010 (archived, not available online)
Home Office Immigration statistics quarterly, tables cz_06_q and ee_02_q