Number of EU citizens moving to UK plummets post-Brexit as labour shortages bite

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The number of EU citizens moving to the UK has plummeted post-Brexit amid tighter visa requirements, a new report says. 

Just 43,000 people from EU member states received visas for work, study, family or other purposes in 2021, accounting for five per cent of all visas granted that year. 

It’s a sharp decline compared to the 230,000 to 430,000 visas granted to EU citizens in the six years up to March 2020, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics

Since Brexit the UK has introduced a points-based immigration system that sets a minimum salary that prospective workers must earn. 

A study by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford and ReWage, a group of labour market experts, found the end of freedom of movement with the EU had “exacerbated” Britain’s labour shortages. 

But the report also identifies other drivers such as higher job turnover since the Covid pandemic and less activity among people aged over 50. 

Around 40 per cent of visas granted to EU citizens in 2021 were for students, while a further quarter went to “skilled workers” — those paid at least £26,500 (€31,400) per year. 

The UK’s agriculture and hospitality industries have seen the biggest fall in jobs held by EU workers — dropping by around a quarter in both sectors between June 2019 to June 2021. 

Meanwhile the construction industry has seen a 13 per cent rise in such employees over the same period. 

However, only around 2,600 British employers hired at least one EU worker in 2021, with larger companies much more likely to provide the necessary sponsorship for a visa application. 

The report concludes there is “some evidence” that Brexit and the end of free movement contributed to labour shortages in the UK. 

“While there is some evidence that the end of free movement has contributed to shortages in some areas of the UK labour market, it is by no means the only driver,” said Professor Chris Forde of the University of Leeds.

“In fact, recruiting difficulties are not unique to the UK and several other countries have experienced high vacancy rates post-pandemic,” he added. 

The report suggests expanding visa eligibility for low-wage jobs to address gaps in the UK’s labour market. 

It also recommends reducing administrative requirements or fees for British employers looking to hire EU workers. 

EU citizens face tighter visa restrictions since the UK left the EU in January 2021, which ended freedom of movement with the bloc.

The UK introduced a point-based immigration system, which sets a minimum criteria for any non-British citizens wanting to remain in the country for more than six months.

Most people wishing to work in the UK must meet minimum salary requirements and have a minimum B1 English language level. 

Students have to obtain a visa to stay for more than six months and generally must leave the UK after their course finishes. 

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “While it is clear that ending free movement has made it harder for employers in low-wage industries to recruit staff, changing immigration policy to address shortages brings its own set of challenges.

“Low-wage work visa schemes are notoriously difficult to police and often open workers up to exploitation and abuse.”