LONDON (Reuters) – Net migration to Britain fell by 81,000 to 246,000, its lowest level in three years, in the 12 months to the end of March, with more than half the drop due to EU citizens leaving Britain and fewer arriving, official data showed on Thursday.
Since Britain’s June 2016 vote to exit the European Union, the annual difference between those moving to and leaving the country has fallen steadily from a peak of nearly 350,000, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The biggest fall in the latest data came among those from members of eight eastern European countries, including Poland and Hungary, that joined the EU in 2004, prompting the arrival in Britain of many eastern Europeans hoping for better paid jobs and an improved quality of life.
The influx has made it impossible for Britain’s Conservative government to meet an election promise to reduce the numbers to the “tens of thousands”, raising concern about immigration which motivated many Britons to back Brexit.
Within the new figure of 246,000, some 127,000 were from the EU, down 51,000 to its lowest level since the 12 months ending December 2013, while emigration rose and immigration fell compared to the previous 12 months.
Britain has said it aims to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, who are particularly important to sectors of the economy such as construction and the food and hospitality industries.
But some EU citizens are opting to leave partly due to the fall in the pound reducing the value of their wages back home. This poses a headache for businesses who are worried about wage inflation and an inability to fill skills gaps with British workers.
Reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by Kate Holton and Mark Heinrich