Net migration has dropped to its lowest level for three years, official statistics have revealed.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), net migration stood at 246,000 in the year to March 2017 – 81,000 lower than the 327,000 recorded in the previous 12 months.
The ONS said the change in net migration – the difference between the number of people moving to the UK long term and the number leaving – was mostly driven by a fall of 50,000 in immigration and a rise of 31,000 in emigration.
The number of EU citizens leaving the UK increased by 33,000 to 122,000 – the highest for nearly a decade.
The figures show a sharp rise of 17,000 in departures of citizens from the so-called EU8 countries – Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Nicola White, ONS head of international migration statistics, said the figures indicated that the “EU referendum result may be influencing people’s decision to migrate into and out of the UK, particularly EU and EU8 citizens”, but conceded it was “too early to tell if this is an indication of a long-term trend.”
International migration for work remains the most likely reason to move, with 188,000 workers moving to the UK with a definite job.
Related research by the ONS and the Home Office has cast doubt on the government’s reliance on the International Passenger Survey to estimate how many international students are leaving the UK after their studies.
The Home Office paper on “exit checks” – a count of people who are actually known to have left the UK – found that just over 97% of non-EEA students were fully compliant with their visa by either leaving the UK on time, or staying via a visa extension.
Previously, the lack of substantial statistics on international students had led to repeated claims by the government that as many as 100,000 could be staying in the UK illegally.
However, the recent research showed just 4,600 overstayed their visa last year.
The exit checks figures were published on the same day as the government commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to examine the impact international students have on the UK labour market and their contribution to local economic growth.
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