Migration to UK from outside EU hits record level, figures show

Conrad Duncan
Passengers walk past sign prior to immigration control pointing towards queues for UK, EU and Non-EU passport holders: Getty

Migration to the UK from outside the European Union hit record levels last year, according to official figures.

An estimated 379,000 people moved to the country from outside of the EU in the 12 months to September 2019, the highest number since records began in 1975.

Net migration from nations not in the EU also reached its highest level since 2004, with an estimated 240,000 more people arriving than leaving, figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

Overall net migration remained “broadly stable” at 240,000, the ONS said, as the increase in non-EU arrivals offset a fall in EU migrants following the Brexit referendum. An estimated 642,000 people moved to the UK last year, while 402,000 people left the country.

Net migration from the EU fell to its lowest level for 16 years, the figures show.

Immigration for work has decreased due to the decline in arrivals from the EU, while immigration for study has become the main reason for migration.

“Since 2016, immigration for work has decreased because of fewer EU citizens arriving for a job,” Jay Lindop, director of the ONS’s Centre for International Migration.

“Meanwhile, immigration for study has gone up and is now the main reason for migration. This is driven by more non-EU students arriving, specifically Chinese and Indian.”

The figures follow the UK government’s announcement of a points-based immigration system which is set to come into force on 1 January 2020.

Under the system, free movement will be replaced with a minimum salary threshold of £25,600 for most workers post-Brexit – a reduction from the £30,000 threshold proposed by Theresa May’s government.

Last week, Stephen Dorrell, a former Conservative cabinet minister, denounced the new plans as “the worst kind of dog-whistle politics” and warned Britain was becoming a “deeply unattractive” country.

The government has described its system as “firm but fair” and said it will attract “high-skilled workers” to the UK.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said was difficult to predict the overall impact of the government’s immigration policy.

“Immigration from EU countries has already fallen substantially since the referendum,” Ms Sumption said.

“Compared to current policy for EU citizens, the government’s immigration plan is much more restrictive, as well as more expensive for both employers and workers.”

She added “in theory” the plans should significantly reduce EU immigration but noted plans to “liberalise” work visas for non-EU citizens could increase the number of non-EU workers in coming years.

“Because it’s so hard to predict future migration levels, the overall impact of the government’s policy plan on numbers is anyone’s guess,” Ms Sumption said.

Kevin Foster, minister for future borders and immigration, said the figures showed “the importance of taking back control of our borders” and insisted the government’s plans would bring overall migration numbers down.

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