Migration and Mobility in Europe and the UK

At the beginning of 2020, three years after the UK’s referendum to leave the European Union, the future of mobility between the UK and EU remains highly uncertain.

EU migration to the UK had been running at record highs in the couple of years before the 2016 referendum, fueled in part by the UK’s relatively strong economic performance compared to much of the rest of Europe.

But in the aftermath of the referendum, the UK appears to have become a less attractive destination for EU citizens. Arrivals have significantly slowed down, and net EU migration to the UK fell by 59% from 2015 to 2018. One likely reason for this is the sharp fall in the value of the British currency. Political factors and uncertainty about the future may also have played a role. British emigration to Europe, on the other hand, has remained relatively stable.

What will happen next? The Conservative government, elected with a large majority in December 2019, has promised an ‘Australian-style’ points-based system. The finer details of this policy are expected to be announced later this year, but the government has already warned that EU citizens coming to the UK will face visa fees and there will be restrictions placed on how long lower-paid workers can stay. As with all significant migration policy changes, what this will mean for actual levels of mobility, however, remains extremely difficult to predict.

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