Net migration to Britain has fallen to its lowest in more than two years, official data showed on Thursday, partly driven by an increase in the number of people from some Eastern European countries leaving.
But the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said it was too early to discern the long-term migration effects of Britain’s referendum decision last June to leave the EU.
ONS figures showed a net 273,000 people came to Britain in the year to last September, down 49,000 from the previous year and the lowest recorded figure since the year ending June 2014.
Net migration of EU citizens during the period, the first to include the three months following the referendum, was 165,000, a drop of 6,000 on the previous year.
The ONS said there had been a statistically significant increase in emigration of citizens from the so-called EU8 countries – Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia – up 12,000 to 39,000.
The number of people arriving from those countries also fell, it said.
Meanwhile the numbers of people arriving from Bulgaria and Romania rose by 19,000 to 74,000, the highest ever level.
“Although we have seen a fall in net migration of EU8 citizens there have been continued increases in immigration from Romania and Bulgaria, so it is too early to say what effect the referendum result has had on long-term international migration,” said Nicola White, head of international migration statistics at the ONS.
Figures earlier this month showed that a steady rise in the number of EU migrants working in Britain stalled at the end of 2016, suggesting the Brexit vote and the subsequent fall in the value of the pound, might have made the country less attractive as a place to work.
After a surge in immigration over the past 20 years, Britain has one of the highest proportions of non-native workers among European countries. Worries about migration were a big factor in last June’s vote to leave the EU.
Prime Minister Theresa May has recommitted to her predecessor’s pledge to cut annual net migration to under 100,000 and has promised to ensure Britain regains control of immigration as part of its Brexit deal.
Immigration minister Robert Goodwill told Sky channel Thursday’s figures were “very encouraging indeed” and he hoped further progress could be made towards the 100,000 target.