Net migration from the EU to the UK has fallen to its lowest level in nearly five years, official figures show.
An estimated 101,000 more people from the bloc arrived than left in 2017, according to the first data for a full calendar year since the Brexit vote.
The latest figure is the lowest for any 12-month period since the year to March 2013, when it stood at 95,000.
Overall net migration – the difference between the numbers of people arriving and departing for at least 12 months and including non-EU nationals – was around 282,000 in 2017.
This was up by 33,000 on the previous year, but statisticians attributed the rise to an “unusual pattern” in estimates of non-EU student immigration for 2016 which research indicates was an “anomaly”.
Immigration figures published since the EU referendum have sparked claims of a “Brexodus” – though commentators pointed out more people are still coming to live in the UK than departing.
While net migration has fallen from record levels of around a third of a million in 2015 and 2016, it is still well above the Government’s target of less than 100,000.
The latest Office for National Statistics migration report shows:
– A fall in the number of EU citizens coming to the UK “looking for work”, which decreased by a third (33%) from 55,000 in 2016 to 37,000 last year
– Emigration of EU nationals went up by a fifth year-on-year, with an estimated outflow of 139,000 in 2017
– Net migration from eight eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 – Poland, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia and Latvia – has fallen from 42,000 in the year prior to the referendum to 6,000 in 2017
– Net migration from 14 longer-term member states such as Germany, Italy, Spain and France, has almost halved since the vote, falling from 84,000 in the 12 months to June 2016 to 46,000 last year
– An estimated 40,000 more Romanians and Bulgarians migrated to the UK than left last year – the joint lowest net migration figure for the two countries since the year to September 2014
– Non-EU net migration was estimated at 227,000 last year – more than twice the figure for the EU
Nicola White, of the ONS’s migration statistics division, said: “With around 280,000 more people coming to the UK than leaving in 2017, these latest figures show that migration has continued to add to the UK population.
“Net migration fell following record levels in 2015 and early 2016 and has been broadly stable.”
Lord Green of Deddington, chairman of Migration Watch UK, described the figures as “very disappointing”.
He said: “Migration from the EU is still adding 100,000 a year to our population and non-EU net migration is the highest level in a calendar year for 13 years.
“It’s time for the Government to get serious about reducing immigration instead of caving into every demand of the immigration lobby.”
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said the data suggests the UK is “still an attractive country, but its allure for EU migrants has declined considerably over the past couple of years”.
The latest findings sparked fresh calls for Tories to scrap their aim to bring net migration below six figures.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “Like the ‘hostile environment’, it’s clear to almost everyone except Theresa May that the net migration target should go.”
James Stewart, head of Brexit at KPMG UK, said: “Although net migration is on a slight upwards trajectory again what we’re hearing from the market is that sectors such as construction, food production, retail and hospitality are all struggling to find affordable labour, and costs are climbing.”
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said the statistics show “more of the people who are coming to the UK are coming for the reasons we would want – to take up a definite job or to study”.
She added: “More EU nationals continue to arrive than leave and as the ONS have made clear, net migration has been broadly stable since late 2016.
“But while it is not unusual to see quarterly ups and downs, we know more needs to be done if we are to bring net migration down to sustainable levels.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We remain committed to bringing net migration down to sustainable levels, and that is the tens of thousands.”