Net long-term migration to UK reaches two-year low of 273,000
Net long-term migration to the UK has fallen to its lowest level in more than two years after a jump in numbers of eastern Europeans leaving the country, figures have revealed.
The measure - the difference between the numbers of people arriving and leaving the country - was estimated to be 273,000 in the year to the end of September.
This was a fall of 49,000 on the previous 12 months, the lowest level since the year to June 2014, and the first time net migration has dipped below 300,000 in two years.
It was also revealed that, for the first time, both immigration and net migration from the EU were higher than that for the rest of the world.
The figures are the first to include several weeks after the EU referendum in June and represent a boon for the Government, which has repeatedly faced criticism over its immigration target.
However, the net figure remains well above ministers' aim of fewer than 100,000.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported a "statistically significant" rise in emigration of citizens from so-called EU8 nations - Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The outflow of EU8 nationals was up 12,000 year- on-year to 39,000 - the highest for five years.
Immigration from the countries was 58,000, the lowest since they joined the European Union in 2004.
This was offset by a "statistically significant" increase in immigration of Bulgarians and Romanians, which reached 74,000 - the highest on record.
Overall net migration from the EU fell to 165,000 - the lowest for two years - but was higher than for non-EU (164,000).
Immigration was 268,000 from the EU and 257,000 from the rest of the world.
It is the first time the EU figures have been higher than non-EU since current records started.
The most common reason for immigration to the UK was work, with 180,000 EU citizens arriving for employment reasons.
Nicola White, head of international migration statistics at the ONS, said: "Although we have seen a fall in net migration of EU8 citizens, there have been continued increases in immigration from Romania and Bulgaria, so it is too early to say what effect the referendum result has had on long-term international migration."
Immigration minister Robert Goodwill described the fall in net migration as "encouraging".
"But this is just one set of statistics and we must not get carried away," he added. " We will continue to make progress to bring down net migration to the tens of thousands."
Alp Mehmet, vice chairman of Migration Watch UK, said it was a "a step in the right direction", adding: " There is still a net inflow from eastern Europe, especially from Romania and Bulgaria."
Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills at the Institute of Directors, said the figures "provide the first signs of the effect on immigration since Britain voted for Brexit last summer".
He said: "Signs that EU nationals are starting to leave because of the climate of uncertainty are worrying for employers and businesses."
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said it was "too early to tell whether the net migration data represent the beginning of a downward post-referendum trend".
She added: " However, it is interesting to see that emigration of A8 nationals increased significantly at the same time as many EU nationals were scrambling to secure their status in the UK.
"Uncertainty is clearly a key issue for EU nationals in the current environment."
Long-term migrants are defined as those coming to live in the UK for at least a year.