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IPPR - Net migration figures suggest impending labour market crunch

Marley Morris, IPPR’s senior research fellow for Brexit, commented on the long-term immigration statistics from the ONS

“These immigration statistics show an overall significant decline in net migration, driven by a fall in net migration from Eastern Europe.

"EU nationals play a key role in certain sectors of the economy – from the 60,000 workers in the NHS to the further 80,000 workers in social care. Our research has found that these workers are also concentrated in less well-known critical sectors such as food manufacturing, accommodation, and warehousing.

"We need a properly managed migration policy for post-Brexit Britain that meets the needs of the economy and the concerns of the public. But if skilled EU workers are leaving the UK now because their future in the UK is uncertain, we could face a labour market crunch. Moreover, a sharp fall in migration now won’t give employers the time to adapt by investing in skills or automation.

"If urgent action isn’t taken to provide certainty to EU nationals living in the UK, then we won’t be able to create the migration system we need for our post-Brexit economy to succeed – because skilled migrants will decide of their own accord to pack their bags and leave. We need to take steps now to grant deemed leave to all EU citizens in the UK and negotiate in good faith with the EU for a quick and fair deal on citizens’ rights”

The ONS migration statistics indicate that in the year ending December 2016 total long-term net migration to the UK was 248,000, compared to 332,000 in the year ending December 2015. This is driven largely by a fall in net migration of EU citizens of 51,000 (particularly A8 citizens from Eastern European accession countries).

Our recent research highlighted the important role EU nationals play in certain parts of the UK’s labour market. We found:

  • Key occupations in particular industries are particularly reliant on EU nationals – including packers, bottlers, canners and fillers (42 per cent), food, drink and tobacco process operatives (40 per cent), weighers, graders and sorters (34 per cent), vehicle valeters and cleaners (27 per cent), and cleaning and housekeeping managers and supervisors(26 per cent).
  • The impacts of Brexit on the labour market vary radically depending on the type of system introduced. If the current visa rules for non-EU workers were also applied to EU workers, then the vast majority of recent EU workers would be ineligible. This would have serious consequences for the UK labour market.
  • Applying the non-EU rules to EU workers would have a particularly significant impact on the hotels and restaurants sector (where 16 per cent of the entire workforce are ineligible EU nationals), the manufacturing sector (10 per cent), and the agriculture sector (9 per cent).

Migration Statistics Quarterly Report: May 2017 (Latest release)


Kieren Walters 07921 403651
Rebecca Malone 07585 772633

Editor's Note:

  1. Read IPPR’s latest report on Brexit and migration ‘Striking the right deal: UK-EU migration and the Brexit negotiations’ here:
  2. IPPR aims to influence policy in the present and reinvent progressive politics in the future, and is dedicated to the better country that Britain can be through progressive policy and politics. With nearly 60 staff across four offices throughout the UK, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.

    Our independent research is wide ranging, it covers the economy, work, skills, transport, democracy, the environment, education, energy, migration and healthcare among many other areas.
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