Builders panic as number of EU migrants hits six-year low

August 24, 2018 / Isla MacFarlane
Builders panic as number of EU migrants hits six-year low

The number of EU workers coming to Britain has hit a low not seen since 2012, according to ONS data. The figures have worried building firms, as up to half of construction jobs in London are filled by migrant workers and housebuilders are dependent on EU workers to plug the skills gap.

Before the referendum in June 2016, the UK’s EU population grew by approximately 189,000 people. As of March 2018, that figure has more than halved to 87,000. This fall was due mainly to fewer EU citizens coming to the UK looking for work, with the number more than halving between the year ending June 2016 and the year ending June 2017.

Work continued to be the main reason that people migrated long-term to the UK, with 253,000 people arriving for work. This made up 41% of all immigration in the year ending March 2018.

“Looking at the underlying numbers we can see that EU net migration has fallen, as fewer EU citizens are arriving in the UK, and has now returned to the level last seen in 2012,” said Nicola Rogers, Centre for Migration, Office for National Statistics. “Much of the recent fall is in people from the western European countries that make up the ‘EU15’ group coming to the UK for a definite job. Previously, we had seen a decline in the number of EU citizens coming who were looking for work, however, this seems to have stabilised.”

The drop in EU net migration has sounded alarm bells for the UK construction industry, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has said.

Sarah McMonagle, Director of External Affairs at the FMB, said, “EU net migration is at its lowest level since 2012 and this is deeply worrying for those sectors that rely on workers from the EU. Despite the fact that we are still operating under the free movement of people, we’re already seeing far fewer EU workers coming to the UK and a greater number leaving our shores.

“This could be due to financial reasons since the depreciation of sterling following the EU referendum, which means that if these workers are sending money home, or saving up, their UK wages are now worth less. It could also, quite simply, be that some EU workers no longer feel welcome.”

Matthew Fell, CBI UK Policy Director, added, “News that EU net migration has fallen to its lowest level since 2012 will be a real concern for businesses that are already struggling to fill vacancies and plug skills gaps. With record high employment already impacting ability to hire, businesses face a double whammy that could stunt their ability to grow and damage their global competitiveness.

“With changes to immigration policy yet to kick-in, the figures highlight the importance of getting the post-Brexit system right. The system that replaces free movement needs to be both open and controlled. It must ensure that the UK is an attractive place where people want to come and work.”

McMonagle concluded, “The drop in EU net migration is a particular problem for industries like construction. At present, nine per cent of our construction workers are from the EU and therefore we are more reliant than most on EU workers. In London, this proportion rises to nearly one third.

“We can’t afford to lose any more EU workers as currently two-thirds of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers and 60 per cent are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners. If the Government wants its new homes and infrastructure projects built, it needs to do more to back up our industry’s message to all EU workers – they are welcome and they do have a bright future here in the UK.”

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