Net migration to the UK fell to a two-year low in the year to September 2016, according to the latest ONS figures, which include the first three months after the Brexit vote.
Figures show net migration fell by 49,000 to 273,000, the first time it has dropped to below 300,000 in two years.
While a major cause for the decrease is a drop in international students coming to the UK from non-EU countries the figures also show a drop in immigration from Eastern Europe.
According to the statistics 10,000 fewer people came to the UK from Poland, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia and Slovenia (known as the EU8 countries) in the year to September, while 39,000 people from these countries moved away from the UK.
However, there has been a significant increase in migration from Romania and Bulgaria – up 19,000 to 74,000 people.
“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 ONS head of international migration statistics Nicola White.
However, Charlie Pring, senior counsel in the Employment, Pensions and Mobility group at law firm Taylor Wessing, said he had heard anecdotal evidence from industries that rely on EU workers, such as retail and food, that they are concerned about meeting future seasonal demands because of lack of staff.
"The fall in EU worker wages caused by the weak pound is likely to be a key factor here, but also the post-Brexit immigration climate; with EU citizens already here or arriving now having no guarantee on their long-term stay in the UK until the government reaches an agreement with the EU,” he said.
David Frost, organisational development director at Total Produce, told HR magazine employers need to focus on their talent pipelines to mitigate any adverse effects of Brexit.
“It may become more challenging to easily employ and move people across Europe, and as a result it will be essential to take a more planned and proactive approach to organisational design and recruitment,” he said.
Data from LinkedIn, seen by HR magazine, shows that the number of EU professionals looking at UK jobs has dropped by 18% and global searches have dropped by 10%.
Jon Addison, head of LinkedIn’s UK talent solutions, warned employers only have “a short window of time” before the “talent gaps associated with Brexit” start to bite.
He advised HR departments to think carefully about their talent mapping strategies and work closely with colleagues in marketing on employer branding. “HR should see this as an opportunity; it’s a catalyst for new thinking,” he said, adding that many companies are looking at tapping into new global markets.
Surge in residency applications
Separate figures from the Home Office, also released yesterday, show there has been a surge in applications from EEA nationals and their family members applying for UK residency. The Home Office approved 32,000 permanent residence document applications in the final quarter of 2016 – a 560% increase on the same period in 2015.
However, Sophie Barrett-Brown, head of the UK practice at Laura Devine Solicitors, warned of a “hidden backlog” of residency applications.
“The Home Office is dealing with unprecedented demand from EU citizens for residence documentation that millions are eligible for, but few had even thought to apply for prior to the Brexit referendum result,” she said. “The hidden backlogs highlight the pressure the system is already under."
She added: “More radical steps are needed to streamline processing of applications and spare thousands of individuals and families suffering unnecessary anxieties and disruption to their work and family lives.”