UK immigration falls to six-year low as EU workers stay away

Net migration from the European Union to the UK slipped to its lowest level since 2012 as the number of nationals from the bloc working in the country fell the most on record, the Office for National Statistics said on Thursday.

Around 90 000 more EU citizens came to the UK than left in the year ending March 2018, the ONS said in a report, with fewer arriving in Britain for work. Much of the drop comes from people from western European countries coming to the UK for a definite job.

The figures show that the vote to leave the EU in 2016 is already crimping immigration, even before the UK formally exits the bloc. That may delight Brexit supporters, but appal opponents, who say the drying up of foreign workers risks damaging the economy.

Many businesses and public services including hospitals are already complaining of labour shortages.

From April to June this year, there were 2.28 million EU nationals working in the UK, the ONS said, an 86 000-person drop from a year earlier and the largest fall since records began in 1997.

The number of EU citizens coming to the UK looking for work fell by more than a half between 2016 and 2017, the ONS said, and the decline is continuing in citizens from the eight countries in eastern Europe that joined the bloc in 2004.

Migrants are being deterred by a weakened pound, which makes their earnings in the UK worth less when repatriated, and the prospect of migration curbs once Britain leaves the EU next year.

In all, around 270 000 more people are coming to the UK than departing, so net migration is continuing to add to the population, albeit at a reduced pace.

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