Number of overseas nationals leaving UK could have reached 1.3 million


Christian Mueller /

Up to 1.3 million overseas nationals have left the UK over the past year, with almost 700,000 non-UK born workers having vacated London alone, according to a study.

The Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence found an “unprecedented” fall in the number of foreign-born residents in the UK when it applied an ‘adjustment factor’ to Labour Force Survey statistics.

Its estimates relate to the change in the population between July- September 2019 to July-September 2020. The Office for National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey, however, estimates that 893,000 non-UK residents have left the UK.

ESCoE says the exodus of overseas workers could likely be explained by the impact the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis have had on the sectors they work in.

Its Estimating the UK population during the pandemic report says: “Migrants, especially from Europe, are disproportionately likely to be employed in the hospitality sector, and other service sectors that require face-to-face contact, so are more likely to have been furloughed or lose their jobs.

“With many universities moving wholly or largely to online teaching, many foreign students may have decided not to come to the UK or to return here. But most of all, the UK has (alongside a few other western European countries such as Spain and Italy), performed relatively badly in both economic and health terms during the first wave of the pandemic.”

It says many migrants will have been faced with a choice: stay in the UK with no job, less or no pay, and pay for relatively expensive accommodation; or return home to family, with lower costs and “most likely less risk of catching Covid”.

“It seems that much of the burden of job losses during the pandemic has fallen on non-UK workers and has manifested itself in return migration, rather than unemployment. This is in itself an important insight, and, alongside the furlough and other business support schemes, helps explain why, despite the very large and continuing hit to GDP and output, unemployment has not as yet soared to the levels some predicted,” it says.

ESCoE’s estimates show that inner London (-336,635), outer London (-332,121) and the West Midlands (-253,512), saw the greatest reduction in the number of non-UK born residents between 2019 and 2020. The ONS, however, predicts mass migration out of the UK was most prevalent in the West Midlands (-224,486).

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