Theresa May’s attempt to reclaim control of UK borders after Brexit could reduce annual migration from the EU by just 50,000 – one-sixth of the current overall annual figure, according to new research.
The projection of a “vanishingly small reduction” is one of the first attempts to estimate how likely labour market demand, and the government’s planned new controls, could reduce the number of migrants coming to the UK. Reduction in immigrant numbers has been repeatedly cited in polls as the chief reason voters backed leaving the European Union.
The report by a new think-tank, Global Future, shows total net immigration, which at the latest official estimate was 335,000 in the year to June 2016, could be expected to fall by no more than 15%, to 285,000 a year. Future free trade deals with non-EU countries suggests even this reduction could be wiped out
the international trade minister, accepted last week he did not know of any new free trade deal that did not also include liberalisation of migration rules between the two countries signing such agreements. Australia and India have already indicated they will seek preferential access for their workers as part of a free trade deal.
The government has so far refused to produce its own estimate of the cut in migration from Brexit, or precisely how new controls will operate. But the report’s estimates, which were formulated by breaking down the different elements of net migration from the EU and examining government commitments to retain skilled labour, students and some seasonal work, represents one of most thorough projections to date.
The estimates suggest net migration of EU students will be unchanged post-Brexit, even though the mix of EU and non-EU students may shift. It also suggests the currently small number of EU citizens coming mainly for family or marriage reasons will remain constant at 25,000. This route will become one of the most attractive ways of entering the UK, the report points out.
The report points out 22% of EU migrants are in professional jobs, 22% in skilled occupations and 56% doing unskilled jobs. The UK has already said it will need to keep the professional route open, so the report assumes 50% of existing flow professional workers will still be required.