What has happened to immigration between the UK and the EU since Brexit?

It has now been more than five years since the UK voted to leave the European Union, an outcome driven in part by concerns about immigration. So what has happened to immigration since then?

The honest answer is that we don’t know for sure, especially since the pandemic hit. The number of British citizens in the European Union is disputed, while the UK Office for National Statistics admit «We simply cannot count the people entering and exiting at the border.»

The EU’s freedom of movement laws allow citizens of each of the member states to move without a visa to work and study. There are some restrictions – the Irish authorities call in to get a few dozen EU citizens out of the country each year – but they are much easier than the normal immigration procedure.

Brexit heralded the end of free movement between the UK and the EU. Or rather, most EU countries: free movement between Ireland and the UK continues in the Common Travel Area.

Unlike the EU version, freedom of movement on these islands is not guaranteed by a binding treaty: it is a more organic and informal arrangement. But while some experts Worry The Common Travel Area is not clean and tidy, free movement between the EU and the UK has been seen coming and going, meaning that visa-free immigration is ongoing for Irish citizens moving to Britain and vice versa.

From referendum to pandemic

Despite voting for Brexit (and against immigration) On June 23, 2016, the door was not actually closed until December 31, 2020. Until then, freedom of movement continued as before despite the referendum while withdrawal negotiations continued and then in a transitional period.

The fact of the vote initially and anecdotally owes much to provoking Europeans to “Brexit” from Britain, and persuading others not to come in the first place.

“Within our membership, many people have left the UK and returned to the EU,” says Luke Piper of the EU citizens campaign group The3Million. «The UK’s decision to leave has made many people feel unwelcome.»

Researchers have found that many people are reconsidering their place in Brexit. in one recent study Of the 2,400 people, 59% said it «increased the likelihood that they would leave the UK».

But out of a total EU population in the millions, «we haven’t seen a big Brexit,» says Rob McNeil, deputy director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University. “Most EU citizens in the UK are stable, have jobs and live in the UK, and have stayed in the UK, despite the political changes.”

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While British immigration data It is known to be unreliableThe best available estimates indicate a modest increase in immigration since the referendum. In the year ending March 2016, just before the referendum, a estimated 220,000 EU citizens have left. That rose to 250,000 in the year through March 2020.

while, More than 5 million They have now been given permission to remain under the EU settlement scheme. Everyone still lives in the UK – some will hedge their bets – but the vast majority of current residents were able to stay if they wanted to and knew of the plan.

As a single European resident He told the researchers In the UK at the Changing Europe Research Centre:

I am against Brexit. I think it would be terrible for the economy. But I will land the ship. This is where I feel at home and I would be devastated if I had to leave.”

Estimated migration declined more steadily and significantly, from 500,000 annually to 366,000 before the pandemic.

Again, the official statistics are quite poor, and the numbers given are probably wrong. But even allowing for an enormous margin of error, it appears that more EU citizens have come to the UK than the left, although Brexit undoubtedly left a bad taste for some.

“Overall, the number of EU immigrants in the UK has continued to grow (although much slower), rather than declining,” says McNeil.

The combined effect of a small increase in migration and a decrease in migration still results in a significant slowdown. Putting all that into the impact of Brexit is tricky, though: There were other things calling immigrants home between 2016 and 2020.

“Factors such as the depreciation of the pound relative to the euro and the zloty after the referendum; increased economic opportunities in various EU member states, including Poland; and concerns about long-term opportunities in the UK after Brexit are all likely factors that may have influenced over people’s choices,» says McNeil the magazine.

«There is no specific evidence that post-Brexit administrative factors had an important role to play, and little to suggest that stigmatization of foreign workers was a major driver of immigration or the decline in immigration.»

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After Britain leaves the European Union and after the pandemic

British authorities have less idea of ​​what has happened since the end of freedom of movement. National Statistics Office He says: «There has been speculation that during 2020 and 2021 there was a mass exodus of people – especially EU nationals – leaving the UK to go and live elsewhere. Has this really happened? Simply put, we don’t know yet.»

This is because the epidemic has played out hell fun With already unreliable records on immigration and foreign populations, including an airport survey that has been running continuously since 1961 but has fallen victim to Covid.

Professor Alan Manning of the London School of Economics says that «although estimates that the number of immigrants in the UK has fallen by 1.3 million have now been largely discredited, some European workers have returned home». On the other side of the balance sheet, A little bit Apply for work visas under the new immigration system.

Latest employment numbers recorded 200,000 The number of EU workers in the UK is lower than the number of workers in the pre-pandemic period, while the Office for National Statistics has temporarily registered An overall decrease in population of up to 110,000 inhabitants in 2020.

But because the end of freedom of movement has coincided with the pandemic, Madeleine Sumption of the Migration Observatory insists that «it is still too early to assess the implications of the new immigration system».

British citizens in the European Union

If EU immigration to the UK is a bit hazy, then the picture of British immigration to and from the EU is a positive pea haze.

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“We don’t know that at the moment,” laments Professor Michaela Benson of Lancaster University, an expert on British immigrants. «Right now, when we do research, we’re using old statistics from five or six years ago.»

According to the European Parliament, EU records showed «around 857,000 British citizens in the EU at the beginning of 2019; however, the actual number is estimated to be much higher, with some citing 1.2 million British citizens in the EU».

The figure of 1.2 million comes from the United Nations. The British ONS don’t like the way it is calculated, and they’ve come up with their own way. Benson’s «Brexit Brits Abroad» project said, in a broader definition of who an immigrant is, can be as loud as 3.6 million.

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The dispute over how many British citizens live in the European Union at any one time means it is nearly impossible to get a sense of how immigration patterns will change due to Brexit.

A large portion of British immigrants live in Ireland – more than 100,000, says Benson. «The only group of immigrants, of any nationality, that outnumbered the British in Ireland was the Polish.»

Thanks to the Common Travel Area, that group has largely escaped the Brexit fears of its counterparts in France and Spain.

British residents of European countries have been able to obtain residence permits, although the system varies from country to country. In some countries, including Spain, Germany and Italy, residency rights are carried over automatically (terms and conditions apply).

In France and dozens of other countries, people have to apply for the right to remain, like their citizens in the United Kingdom. They all have deadlines that have either already passed or will expire by the end of 2021.

But the end of freedom of movement means that even current residents will not have the right before Brexit to move from one country to another within the EU. British citizens will need to obtain visas in the future: what is goose sauce is a man’s sauce.

Not everyone seems ready for this fact. Piper recounts “A conversation with a Briton who wants to move to Greece to do all the ‘new life in a new country’. I asked if they had checked what immigration rules and other rules they had to abide by. They were amazed.”

“Brexit will not stop people from moving,” Benson says. «It will only change the conditions under which people move and that in turn will change the shape of those migrations.» How exactly remains to be seen.

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant program from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are those of the author. The European Parliament does not participate in and assumes no responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. for more information, look here.

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