Soaring numbers of EU migrants leaving UK fuelling skills crisis

Britain’s skills crisis is being fuelled by an exodus of EU migrants, with new figures revealing that last year saw a dramatic rise in European citizens leaving the country.

A fall in the number of people coming to the UK combined with a big increase in EU citizens leaving means employers risk “losing key members of staff in positions that cannot easily be replaced”, according to business leaders.

Around 117,000 EU citizens left Britain in 2016 new Office for National Statistics figures reveal, an increase of 31,000 on 2015 and the highest number since 2009.

EU citizens who left mostly came from EU8 countries, including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Baltics.

The number of students coming to UK universities also fell by 32,000 to 136,000.

Head of employment and skills policy at the Institute of Directors (IoD), Seamus Nevin, said: “Alarmingly, the fall in net migration is being driven as much by people leaving as by fewer arriving. This is a big worry for employers who risk losing key members of staff in positions that cannot easily be replaced from the home-grown pool available. The IoD has repeatedly called for the government to guarantee the status of EU migrants already living here. Doing so would allow businesses to start planning for the future.

“There is a well expressed public desire for increased control of immigration but all parties in the general election should set out clearly the costs of any proposals they make. The Office for Budget Responsibility have calculated that cutting immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’ would add £6bn a year to the national deficit, just in terms of the direct reduction in the taxes collected and so not including wider economic impacts.”

The government has refused to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK before the negotiations begin and has pledged to reduce migration to under 100,000 if re-elected. Adding to the uncertainty for EU citizens in the UK is a sharp rise in hate crime directed at migrants since the EU referendum.

Between 2000 and 2011, EU migrants paid in around £20bn to the UK’s public finances, as well as paying billions more in taxes than they took from welfare.

Resolution Foundation economic analyst, Stephen Clarke, said: “The sharp fall in migration since the referendum shows that British businesses need to start preparing now for a big shift in the labour market, even before we leave the EU.

“Rising emigration among EU nationals, particularly from Eastern Europe, means that many firms would be wise to rethink their investment, recruitment and training policies.

“What businesses also need during this election campaign is far more clarity from political parties about what their post-Brexit migration policy will be. The choices we make about post-Brexit Britain’s approach to migration will mean a fundamental shift in the way many run their business – the time to start preparing for that is now.”