Pandemic causes 1.3 million drop in UK population as foreign workers move home

London’s economy at risk of ‘profound’ damage should migration trend continue

FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians walk on London Bridge with the Shard in the background, in London, Britain November 25, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo
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The pandemic looks to have sparked the largest decrease in the UK’s population since the Second World War.

The Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence said an “unprecedented exodus” of foreign workers contributed to a 1.3 million fall in the population between the third quarter of 2019 and the same period in 2020.

In London, an estimated 700,000 foreign-born workers have left, contributing to an 8 per cent drop in the capital’s population over the last year.

The study found a link between the departure of foreign-born residents and the high number of job losses in sectors forced to close such as hospitality.

The authors of the study, Michael O’Connor and Jonathan Portes, warned London’s economy is in danger of long-term damage if foreign workers continued to move home.

The recent Brexit agreement makes it more difficult for EU nationals to emigrate to the UK. EU nationals who left the UK in the past year now need work visas to be employed in Britain. Migrants with settled status can return to work but new migrants need to apply for the visa before employment.

“Big shifts in population trends in London, driven by economic changes and events, are by no means historically unprecedented,” said the authors.

“So the picture of sustained growth driven by international migration is relatively recent. If this has now reversed, the medium to long-term implications for London will be profound.”

The study paints a bleak picture compared to an analysis by PwC, which found that London's population could fall by 300,000 this year. The PwC report said the UK would experience a "baby bust" this year as the annual birth rate dips to its lowest level in a century.

Office for National Statistics’ labour data shows a 246,000 fall in foreign-born residents over the same period, however, the ONS did not dispute the Mr Portes and Mr O’Connor’s findings.