Warning over 'exodus' of nurses as EU migration falls to five-year low

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Pro-EU campaigners have warned of an exodus of nurses and midwives as official figures revealed net migration from the EU to the UK has fallen to its lowest level in nearly five years.

An estimated 101,000 more people from the bloc arrived than left in 2017, according to the first data for a full calendar year since the Brexit vote.

The latest figure is the lowest for any 12-month period since the year to March 2013, when it stood at 95,000.

Overall net migration - the difference between the numbers of people arriving and departing for at least 12 months and including non-EU nationals - was around 282,000 in 2017.

This was up by 33,000 on the previous year, but statisticians attributed the rise to an "unusual pattern" in estimates of non-EU student immigration for 2016 which research indicates was an "anomaly".

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The latest figures prompted new calls from opponents of the government’s immigration policy for a net migration target of 100,000 to be scrapped.

It came as analysis of NHS staffing figures by the People’s Vote campaign showed that 1,400 midwives and nurses from EU member states have left the health service since the Brexit vote.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council revealed in March that almost 4,000 EEA health staff left their register in the previous year, with 47% citing Brexit as one of their main reasons for leaving the UK.

Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “These figures should be a wakeup call to anyone who loves our NHS. It’s now clear that the staffing crisis in our health service is made worse by Brexit, not better as we were told.

“Our NHS needs more midwives and other healthcare professionals from EU countries, not fewer – but since the referendum we are now sadly seeing people leaving. Not a day goes by without new facts emerging that show the Brexit people were promised can simply not be delivered.”

Ms Walton, whose organisation has backed a so-called People’s Vote on the terms of the UK’s Brexit deal, said it should be “the people, not politicians” who decide if leaving the EU “is right for our health service”.

The latest Office for National Statistics migration report shows a fall in the number of EU citizens coming to the UK "looking for work" down 33% from 55,000 in 2016 to 37,000 last year.

Emigration of EU nationals went up by a fifth year-on-year, with an estimated outflow of 139,000 in 2017.

Net migration from eight eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 - Poland, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia and Latvia - has fallen from 42,000 in the year prior to the referendum to 6,000 in 2017.

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Net migration from 14 longer-term member states such as Germany, Italy, Spain and France, has almost halved since the vote, falling from 84,000 in the 12 months to June 2016 to 46,000 last year.

An estimated 40,000 more Romanians and Bulgarians migrated to the UK than left last year, the joint lowest net migration figure for the two countries since the year to September 2014.

Meanwhile, non-EU net migration has risen to an estimated 227,000 last year - more than twice the figure for the EU.

Nicola White, of the ONS's migration statistics division, said: "With around 280,000 more people coming to the UK than leaving in 2017, these latest figures show that migration has continued to add to the UK population.

"Net migration fell following record levels in 2015 and early 2016 and has been broadly stable."

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said the data suggests the UK is "still an attractive country, but its allure for EU migrants has declined considerably over the past couple of years".

The latest findings sparked fresh calls for Tories to scrap their aim to bring net migration below six figures.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: "Like the 'hostile environment', it's clear to almost everyone except Theresa May that the net migration target should go."

James Stewart, head of Brexit at KPMG UK, said: "Although net migration is on a slight upwards trajectory again what we're hearing from the market is that sectors such as construction, food production, retail and hospitality are all struggling to find affordable labour, and costs are climbing."

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said the statistics show "more of the people who are coming to the UK are coming for the reasons we would want - to take up a definite job or to study".

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She added: "More EU nationals continue to arrive than leave and as the ONS have made clear, net migration has been broadly stable since late 2016.

"But while it is not unusual to see quarterly ups and downs, we know more needs to be done if we are to bring net migration down to sustainable levels."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We remain committed to bringing net migration down to sustainable levels, and that is the tens of thousands."