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EU immigration at lowest level since 2013

By Hayden Smith and Ian Jones, Press Association

Immigration to the UK from the European Union has fallen to the lowest level in five years.

Official figures show an estimated 201,000 EU nationals moved to the UK with an intention to stay 12 months or more in 2018.

This was the lowest inflow from the bloc since 2013, when it also stood at 201,000.

Around 127,000 EU citizens emigrated - giving a net figure of 74,000.

In the year to June 2016, when the Brexit referendum was held, net long-term EU migration was 189,000.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said non-EU long-term immigration has gradually increased over the last five years to similar levels seen in 2011.

Overall net international migration was estimated at 258,000 last year - down from 285,000 in 2017 but still well above the Government's target level of under 100,000.

Jay Lindop, director of the ONS centre for international migration, said: "Our analysis of the available data suggests that long-term net migration, immigration and emigration figures have remained broadly stable since the end of 2016."

EU net migration has decreased since mid-2016 following a period of increase, while non-EU net migration has gradually been increasing since 2013, standing at an estimated 232,000 last year, the ONS report said.

It added: "However, both EU and non-EU citizens continue to add to the population, while more British citizens leave long-term than return."

Net migration from eight eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004 has been negative in the four consecutive quarterly statistical bulletins.

In the latest period, 10,000 more nationals from the so-called EU8 states - Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia - departed than arrived.

There was a "statistically significant" rise in net migration from the Middle East and Central Asia, rising from 18,000 in 2017 to 30,000 last year.

Ms Lindop said the pattern of migration to the UK for work has been changing since 2016.

She added: "Long-term immigration to the UK for work has fallen, mainly driven by the decline in EU arrivals.

"Despite this, 99,000 EU citizens still came to the UK long-term to work in 2018, a level similar to 2012.

"We are also seeing the number of skilled work visas for non-EU citizens increasing, although overall non-EU work-related immigration has remained broadly stable."

The latest figures prompted fresh calls for the Tories to abandon a controversial objective of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands.

Prime Minister Theresa May has remained in favour of the target, but Home Secretary Sajid Javid has refused to commit to a specific figure, instead saying the Government's aim is to bring migration down to "sustainable levels".

Sunder Katwala, director of think-tank British Future, said: "These will be Theresa May's final immigration statistics as a prime minister and home secretary who placed the net migration target at the centre of the Government's immigration policy.

"But the net migration target was a promise to voters that could never be kept."

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: "It's clear that the UK has become less attractive for EU citizens over the past few years, whether because of the lower value of the pound or the uncertainty around Brexit.

"But Brexit doesn't seem to have put off non-EU migrants: the UK continues to be a top destination for international students and skilled workers from outside the EU."

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said: "These figures show that the UK is continuing to attract skilled workers like doctors and nurses, who play a vital role in supporting our communities and boosting our economy.

"Net migration continues to be stable and as we leave the EU our new immigration system will give us greater control over who comes here, while ensuring employers have the access to the skills they need."