The Office for National Statistics estimated long-term net migration to be 248,000 in 2016, down a “statistically significant” 84,000 from 2015, with business groups cautioning that EU nationals leaving the UK, meant employers risk “losing key members of staff in positions that cannot easily be replaced”.
The net change was caused by an increase in EU citizens leaving the country as well as a smaller fall in people coming to the UK.
The ONS says around 117,000 EU citizens left the UK in 2016, an increase of 31,000 on 2015 and the highest recorded estimate since 2009.
Those who left were mostly EU8 citizens – a group which includes citizens of Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltics and Hungary.
Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “Today’s migration figures underline the importance of immigration to the UK workforce and are a warning of the damage a significant reduction could do. Alarmingly, the fall in net migration is being driven as much by people leaving as by fewer arriving. This is a big worry for employers who risk losing key members of staff in positions that cannot easily be replaced from the home-grown pool available. The IoD has repeatedly called for the government to guarantee the status of EU migrants already living here. Doing so would allow businesses to start planning for the future.
“There is a well expressed public desire for increased control of immigration but all parties in the general election should set out clearly the costs of any proposals they make. The Office for Budget Responsibility have calculated that cutting immigration to the “tens of thousands” would add £6bn a year to the national deficit, just in terms of the direct reduction in the taxes collected and so not including wider economic impacts.
“The next government must also set out a plan for a new immigration system which doesn’t disrupt the dominant services sector of our economy. Trade isn’t just about goods being sold, services exports require people to be able to travel for business. Services comprise roughly 80 per cent of UK employment and almost half of our exports, so a reduction in this area could lead to job losses and a considerable adjustment for the UK economy. Our migration system will play a central part in shaping ‘Global Britain’s’ future trading relationship, not only with the EU, but also with the rest of the world.”
The British Hospitality association recently called for a ten-year phased approach to reducing immigration from the EU, to allow time for the recruitment of UK workers, and is is a key plank of a ‘manifesto’ sent to the major political parties earlier this month.
The BHA, representing the UK’s fourth largest industry employing more than 4.5 million people, has called on all parties to make hospitality and tourism a strategic priority – as have many other governments around the world.
It asks that immigration targets be evidence-based and cites a recent report from KPMG which concluded that at least an extra 60,000 EU workers were required each year to keep just the hospitality business going and growing.