UK net migration slumped by 88% last year

EU citizens stay away from Britain during pandemic as immigration slumps to lowest level for years

Commuters walk along London Bridge in London, U.K., on Thursday, May 6, 2021. The U.K.'s economic rebound from the pandemic is already fueling speculation that Bank of England policy makers this week will start discussing how and when they can ease their foot off the stimulus pedal. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Britain has recorded a major slump in population growth from net migration as figures show a huge reduction in the number of people arriving due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.

Data from the Office for National Statistics for 2020 has laid bare shifting migration patterns to and from the UK.

It found that net migration – the difference between immigration and emigration – had fallen by 88 per cent since 2019, to its lowest level since 1993.

Net migration reached 34,000 in 2020, compared with 217,000 the year before, analysis showed.

There was a significant drop in people coming to the country as an estimated 268,000 people immigrated to the UK in 2020, compared with 592,000 people the previous year.

Emigration also fell in 2020, with about 234,000 people leaving the UK to live abroad in 2020, compared with 300,000 people the year before.

A fall in immigration was recorded in all three main groups – European Union citizens, non-EU citizens and returning British expatriates.

A total of 94,000 more EU citizens left Britain than arrived, with far fewer Europeans entering Britain and emigration levels remaining steady.

The authors of the ONS study said in addition to the pandemic, Brexit was a telling factor. Britain left the bloc at the end of January 2020 – although EU citizens retained the right to move to the UK until the end of that year.

The Covid-19 pandemic also severely hampered the ONS's ability to collect migration data as it stopped its traditional practice of surveying passengers at airports and ports.

The provisional data is based on experimental statistical modelling and is likely to be revised, with plausible estimates for 2020 of net immigration of 125,000 to net emigration of 58,000, the ONS said.

The latest census, which will be released next year, will give a clearer picture of migration patterns, it said.

"Although there is no evidence of an exodus from the UK in 2020, global travel restrictions meant the movement of people was limited, with all data sources suggesting migration fell to the lowest level seen for many years," said Jay Lindop, director of the Centre for International migration.

"These are our best current estimates for international migration over this period, however, they are modelled figures based on experimental research and subject to a high level of uncertainty.

"These figures will be updated further early next year as we bring together new sources of data to give the best picture of international migration.”

Updated: November 25th 2021, 2:18 PM