Number of EU migrants moving to UK nosedives post-Brexit

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Max Parry

By Max Parry

Published: 15/08/2022

- 19:46

Updated: 14/02/2023

- 10:45

In 2021 only five percent of the visas given out by the UK government went to EU citizens

A new report has shown the number of EU citizens moving to the UK has fallen since Brexit.

The Migration Observatory (MO) at Oxford University and independent experts at ReWage said that although Brexit “exacerbated” labour shortages it wasn’t the only factor.

Between March 2015 and March 2020 230,000 to 430,000 EU citizens came to Britain, according to ONS data. However in 2021, 43,000 EU citizens received visas to enter the country.

Only five percent of visas given out by the UK Government in 2021 were to EU citizens, as reported in the Guardian.

EU and Union flags.
EU and Union flags.
Stefan Rousseau

“The figures available so far are therefore consistent with the possibility of a large decline in EU immigration” says the MO and ReWage report.

However, the report notes additional reasons for reduced EU migration to Britain, including: the Covid pandemic, over-50s taking an early retirement, European employment levels being high and international labour shortages.

“While there is some evidence that the end of free movement has contributed to shortages in some areas of the UK labour market, it is by no means the only driver. In fact, recruiting difficulties are not unique to the UK and several other countries have experienced high vacancy rates post-pandemic,” said Chris Forde, co-author of the ReWage report.

Madeleine Sumption, the director of the MO, said: “While it is clear that ending free movement has made it harder for employers in low-wage industries to recruit staff, changing immigration policy to address shortages brings its own set of challenges.”

Hospitality and other low-skilled sectors were heavily hit by reduced numbers of EU workers. From June 2019 to June 2021 the hospitality industry lost almost 100,000 staff.

Staff shortages in the hospitality industry hit record levels in June, costing the sector £21 billion in lost revenue and forcing businesses to close, trade bodies said.

Hospitality is not the only sector in the UK labour market experiencing shortages.

A spokesperson for the Confederation of Passenger Transport said: “The bus and coach industry relies on a secure supply of labour to ensure that services to passengers can be maintained.

“Like most industries, the bus and coach sector is currently experiencing a labour shortage, with 8.5% of bus driver roles (up from 7.5% in March) and nearly 15% of coach driver roles currently vacant.

“Despite continuing attempts to recruit within the UK at competitive salary levels and encouraging people to take up apprenticeships in the sector, bus and coach operators frequently have to look outside the UK to fill these roles.

“It is vital that future immigration policy is based on needs within the UK labour market. CPT therefore calls on the UK Government and the Migration Advisory Committee to add the role of bus and coach driver to the list of occupations eligible for the Skilled Worker Visa (SWV).”

Additional reporting: Isabelle Pethick + Tara Goodsell

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