Non-EU migration to the UK hits its highest since 1975 when records began, official figures show
The number of non-EU migrants coming to the UK has surged after the Government lifted the cap on overseas students
The number of non-EU migrants coming to the UK is at its highest since records began nearly 50 years ago, official figures show.
Immigration last year from non EU countries rose to 404,000, the highest since 1975 when the Office for National Statistics (ONS) started collecting data on the citizenship of migrants.
Net migration from outside the EU - the balance between the number of people entering and leaving the country - was also at its highest level since 1975 - at 282,000, having gradually risen since 2013.
It means the number of non EU migrants coming to the UK to study or work has surpassed the previous peak of 265,000 in 2004, during the Tony Blair years when immigration was supercharged by the opening of the borders to workers from Eastern Europe.
By contrast, net migration by EU citizens into the UK fell to 49,000 in the year ending December 2019, its lowest for more than a decade and down from a peak of 200,000 in the years before the EU referendum in 2016, according to yesterday’s ONS data.
The non-EU increase has been fuelled largely by a surge in overseas students from China and India after the Government scrapped the cap on universities’ student numbers in 2015/16 as tuition fees were raised to £9,250 a year for UK undergraduates.
Chinese students account for almost a third of the non-EU immigrants at nearly 120,000, up 20 per cent in a year, followed by Indian students whose numbers nearly doubled to 37,450 last year.
Jay Lindop, director of the Centre for International Migration at the ONS, said: "Overall migration levels have remained broadly stable in recent years, but new patterns have emerged for EU and non-EU migrants since 2016.
"For the year ending December 2019, non-EU migration was at the highest level we have seen, driven by a rise in students from China and India, while the number of people arriving from EU countries for work has steadily fallen.”
The ONS data showed net migration was at 270,000, the highest level for a calendar year since 2015, supplying a strong labour and international student market.
Britain’s immigration is, however, facing transformation from the fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic and Boris Johnson’s ending of EU free movement and introduction of a points-based system for potential entrants.
Oxford University’s Migration Observatory said the new system - putting EU and non-EU migrants on the same footing - would make entry easier for skilled non-EU entrants.
This is due to the lowering of the salary threshold to £25,600, the removal of the cap on them and the removal of the restriction to graduate-level jobs.
“It means numbers of non-EU migrants could rise further although obviously the Covid-19 situation is likely to affect that at least in the short term,” said Rob McNeil, the observatory’s deputy director.
He said the coronavirus pandemic would have far-reaching consequences for migration as well as immediate impacts due to workers' inability to travel to take up work and employers’ difficulty bringing seasonal workers to British fields.
“Even once we emerge from the immediate health crisis, economic and social disruption in the migration system is likely to continue. Will UK employers still want to recruit workers from overseas?” said Mr McNeil.
“Will international students still be applying for and taking up places at British universities a time of unprecedented disruption and uncertainty? Migration flows to and from the UK may effectively have to start from scratch once the crisis is over.”
Kevin Foster, the Immigration Minister, said: "The Immigration Bill gives the UK full control of our immigration system for the first time in decades and the power to determine who comes to this country.
"We are continuing to develop our new points-based system, which will attract the people we need to drive our economy forward and lay the foundation for a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy.
“These figures show we are continuing to attract the brightest and best from across the globe. There are now more international students at our Universities, plus overseas doctors and nurses playing a key role on the frontline of our NHS.”
Immigration to the end of 2019 by region:
South Asia (India, Sri Lanka etc): 120,000
East Asia (China, Japan etc): 96,000
Middle East and Central Asia: 37,000
Sub Saharan Africa: 36,000
South East Asia (Vietnam, Philippines): 30,000
North America: 27,000
Central and South America: 12,000
North Africa: 8,000
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