The Brexit effect: Number of EU nationals in UK slumps

The Brexit effect: Number of EU nationals in UK slumps

The number of EU residents in the UK has slumped, new figures published today reveal. 

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the number of EU citizens in the country on a short-term basis fell 10% in the 2021 Census, compared to a decade ago. 

At the same time, the proportion of non-EU-born residents rose from 65% to 75%. 

Changing border controls and immigration restrictions due to Brexit have impacted migration from the EU, though COVID and the Ukraine war also play a role. 

Providing a snapshot of international migration in England and Wales, the ONS contrasted census data from 2011 and 2021, focusing on the number of residents born outside the UK and who intended to stay in the country for less than 12 months. 

It found that China was the most common country of birth, followed by India (10%) and Romania (5%). 

In 2011, Romania was not in the top 10. Then, India, China and the US were the most common. 

Last year, ONS data revealed that net migration to the UK hit its highest-ever level, despite Brexit promises to bring immigration down. 

Extraordinary visa schemes for Ukrainians fleeing the war, Afghan nationals and Hong Kong British overseas nationals helped fuel this rise, alongside an increase in students.

It also found that the immigration of EU citizens to the country remained broadly stable, though noted it was too early to say if this would continue. 

In today’s figures, most non-UK-born, short-term residents were living in the capital (29%), followed by the South East and North West, which had the largest difference between EU (20%) and non-EU (80%) residents. 

Short-term migrants come to the UK for a variety of reasons, including for work and looking after family members. 

But the most common reason recorded by the ONS was to study, with 42% economically inactive students. Nearly half of these students were Chinese.

After the UK left the EU in 2020, the number of EU students dropped significantly, with the introduction of new visa processes and international fees.  

In parallel, British universities welcomed some 44,500 more Chinese students in 2021/22 than in 2017/18 – a 41% increase. 

The ONS study pointed out that the 2021 Census took place during the COVID pandemic, calling this a “period of unparalleled and rapid change”, suggesting care needed to be taken when using this data.

136,000 short-term, non-UK-born residents were recorded in the Census 2021. 

A majority were women at 55% — compared to 45% men — while a third 33% were aged between 20 and 24 years.


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