New ONS data shows number of EU citizens coming to work in the UK has slumped

Two construction workers with back to camera

Source: Shutterstock / Mavich Stock Man

New figures suggest the level of migration by EU citizens into the UK is at its lowest level for a decade, fuelling concerns across the construction sector that it will soon have problems completing some jobs as workers from the Continent stay away after Brexit.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show a net immigration figure of 283,000 in the year to the end of September 2018, in line with movements since the end of 2016.

But while non-EU net migration was the highest since 2004, the number of EU citizens coming to work in the UK fell to levels not seen since 2009, with the looming Brexit likely to have been a factor behind the decline.

Jay Lindop, the ONS’s Centre for International Migration director, said the UK was seeing more EU8 citizens – those from Central and Eastern European countries, for example Poland, which joined the EU in 2004 – leaving the country than were arriving.

The UK construction industry relies on EU citizen workers and has expressed growing concern that the government’s proposed immigration policies will block off its access to labour from the region.

It has been suggested that more than a third of labourers working on jobs in London hail from the EU and these could leave in the months following Brexit, or their compatriots simply fail to travel to the UK to fill other vacancies.

In the latest expression of concern about where firms would source workers, earlier this week the mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the G15 group of housing associations wrote to housing secretary James Brokenshire highlighting the problem.

Many companies were reporting the loss of key staff who were returning overseas, the letter warned.