The economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has sparked a mass departure of foreign workers from the UK.
The number of foreign-born people of working age in Britain dropped by more than half a million in the past year, official data revealed.
Estimates from the Office of National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey showed there are 594,000 fewer foreign-born people in employment in the UK, and 100,000 more jobless, compared with the same time last year.
Those who make up the rest of the total of 764,000 were categorised as “economically inactive”, and include family members who do not work and students.
The data did not say where the workers have gone but it is assumed many of them have left the country or did not travel to the UK this year for contractual or seasonal work.
Economic recovery looks farther away after England entered its second lockdown last week, forcing businesses to close their doors once more.
Jonathan Portes, a leading professor of economics at King’s College London, said much of the drop in figures could be caused by a high number of Europeans who decided to move home after losing their jobs.
But Prof Portes sounded a note of caution about the overall statistics.
"It's very difficult to collect reliable data from a survey carried out during a pandemic," he told The National.
British workforce gets younger
The office's data also showed an increase of nearly one million Britons of working age, a trend that could be due to people returning to the UK after losing jobs abroad or choosing not to travel internationally.
It estimates that unemployment in the UK has risen to 4.8 per cent, an increase of 0.9 per cent, year on year.
Since March, the number of payroll employees has fallen by 782,000, with the largest drop occurring towards the start of the pandemic.
But fears that unemployment could rise as high as 7 per cent may not be realised because of the number of low-paid workers leaving the country.
“The sectorial aspect of this crisis is what’s affecting many in low-paid jobs, such as hospitality or retail.
“That, coupled with international borders being closed and fewer jobs being advertised, means more people are going to go back home if they are not from the UK,” said Cyrille Lenoel, senior economist at The National Institute of Economic and Social Research.
This month, Finance Minister Rishi Sunak announced that the UK's furlough scheme would be extended until March 2021, but that has failed to quell the nation's concerns over job security in the months ahead.
Many migrant workers do not qualify for the job-support scheme because of the nature of seasonal or contract work.
The figures show there are also 29,000 fewer foreign-born students in Britain than last year.
Prof Jonathan Wadsworth from Royal Holloway, University of London, a former member of the UK Migration Advisory Committee, says the drop in foreign-born workers is exceptional.
"It's normal during a recession that the number of migrants slows down but it's never anything on this scale," Prof Wadsworth told The National.
“If this was happening you would see a mass exodus at the airports and ports.
"While I agree we are living in extraordinary times, we need to analyse migrant flows and see where these people have gone, or not gone."