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No Mass Exodus of CEE nationals From Pre-Brexit UK?

Migration statistics show citizens of CEE countries that joined the EU in 2004 were leaving the pre-Brexit UK before December 2018, but that is not the whole story. by Victoria Roberts 31 May 2019

A fall of nearly 10 percent in the UK population from the “EU8” was an eye-catching statistic in the UK's latest population report by birth and nationality released last week, a day after the country’s European elections, but the figures obscure trends in the data that do not indicate a mass, one-way exodus.


The UK was one of the few EU15 countries not to exercise even a limited moratorium on free movement from the countries of the 2004 EU accession, which made the UK a favoured destination. Those born in the EU8 – the Central and East European countries of the 2004 accession: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia – reached a peak in the UK population of 1.44 million in 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).


Annual Population Survey - EU-born population stabilising


Meanwhile, in an indication that non-British children are being born in the UK, the ONS estimated 1.58 million EU8 nationals in the UK population in 2017.


In the estimates for 2018, now available, those populations have fallen to 1.32 million EU8-born and 1.43 million EU8 nationals – falls of 8.38 percent and 9.67 percent, respectively.


And the ONS also confirmed that a year-on-year decline in EU nationals overall was “mainly accounted for by those holding EU8 nationality, particularly Polish.”


However, the organization stressed: “Despite the recent decline, Polish has been the most common non-British nationality (905,000) in the UK since 2007. Polish nationals accounted for 15 percent of the total non-British residents in the UK in 2018. The Poland-born population also remained the most common non-UK country of birth, along with India (both estimated at 832,000).”


These population estimates are based on a survey of households, but do not include communal establishments such as student and hospital accommodations.


The picture in the Migration Statistics Quarterly Report, released by the ONS on the same day, was much less extreme, but still showed a 10,000 net fall in EU8 citizens entering the UK with the intention of staying 12 months or more, in the year to December 2018. The data were based on passenger surveys at ports.


Immigration emigration and net migration to and from UK by citizenship-year ending December 2018


The survey also shows a significant mixture of immigration and emigration flows making up that net migration figure. Although 45,000 EU8 citizens are estimated to have left the UK in the 12 months to December 2018, 35,000 are estimated to have entered the country, with the intention of staying for 12 months or longer.


Romanians and Bulgarians Still Arriving


In contrast to the EU8 population, migration figures for nationals of the EU2 – Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU in 2007 – show 33,000 net immigration to the UK over the 12 months to December 2018, consisting of an estimated 47,000 arriving and just 14,000 leaving.


Romanians were singled out in the population survey, too, with the ONS commenting: “Prior to this latest year [2018], the increase in non-UK populations has been largely accounted for by EU populations, particularly the EU2, with those born in Romania, or with Romanian nationality, seeing the largest increases. The Romania-born population more than doubled between 2014 and 2018, from 170,000 to 392,000, and a similar pattern was seen for Romanian nationals.”


The population of EU2-born people rose from 474,000 in 2017 to 495,000 in 2018. The figures for EU2 nationals were 497,000 in 2017 and 516,000 in 2018.


People from Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, are not given a separate statistical category in the ONS’s migration and population reports.


Moreover, both EU8 and EU2 migration figures are dwarfed by the net inflow of non-EU citizens in the 12-month period to December 2018. Estimated net immigration of 232,000 people consisted of 324,000 arriving and 92,000 leaving.


Non-EU Long-Term International Migration, UK, year ending December 2008 to year ending December 2018


Meanwhile, the population report showed a 1.16 percent increase in the non-EU population of the UK to 5.74 million in 2018, up from 5.68 million in 2017.


Nevertheless, it was an indicator of how politicized migration statistics are considered to be that these figures were originally due to be published on 23 May, by which time the UK was supposed to have left the EU. With the deadline for the UK leaving the EU delayed until 31 October, European Parliamentary elections were held in the UK on 23 May, and the ONS population and migration statistics were released on 24 May.


The final election results indicated that the Brexit Party was the biggest single party, having won 30.75 percent of the UK vote, on a turnout of 36.9 percent. The pro-Remain Liberal Democrats were in second place, with 19.76 percent of votes. Neither party is in government in the UK. Full results can be found here.

Victoria Roberts is a TOL contributing editor.
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