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EU net migration falls again – does it matter?

22 Feb 2018

New data showing declines in net migration highlight the futility of focusing on a single headline figure to think about the impacts of migration, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today.

The new data, released today by the Office for National Statistics, show that net migration of EU citizens fell to 90,000 in the year ending September 2017, its lowest point since 2012. This was primarily due to continued reductions in the number of EU nationals coming to the UK looking for work, as well as an increase in emigration of EU citizens. Non EU net migration during the period increased by 40,000, although this appears to be the result of a statistical anomaly rather than a trend.

While the data will prompt the usual speculation about the impacts of Brexit and the implications for the UK economy, these headline figures tell us essentially nothing about whether changing EU migration since the referendum is a good or bad thing for the UK. Net migration figures include no information on fundamental factors that shape the outcomes for both the UK and the migrants themselves. These include the skills, incomes and activities of the migrants arriving in and leaving the UK, as well as indicators of integration, such as English language proficiency.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “Net migration data are a blunt instrument for thinking about how migration affects the UK. They tell us that the UK is less attractive for EU migrants than it was a year or two ago. But they do not provide any evidence that the decline is good or bad for the UK, either socially or economically. The idea that this level is either “too low” or “too high” ignores the fact that it is the outcomes and activities of migrants, not the raw numbers, that define the impacts on the UK.”

Current levels of 244,000 represent a fall of 92,000 since the peak of 336,000 in the year to June 2016. At 90,000, EU net migration remains above but not statistically different to its post-crisis lows of approximately 60,000 to 70,000.

Madeleine Sumption added: “The economic impacts falling EU migration will vary. They will depend on where the declines are concentrated – which localities, industries and types of jobs. Employers who rely on new recruits entering to the UK, rather than people who are already here, are more likely to notice the change. That said, immigration naturally rises and falls over time, and based on the evidence there is no reason to believe that the overall effects of declines of this magnitude will be particularly big.”

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