Number of non-EU workers hits record level while EU figure falls
There were an estimated 1.29 million employees from countries outside the bloc in the last three months of 2018.
The number of non-EU nationals working in the UK has jumped by more than 100,000 to a record high, official figures have revealed.
This contrasted with a fall in EU workers, prompting suggestions a reduction in labour supply from the bloc has resulted in higher levels of migration from the rest of the world.
There were an estimated 1.29 million employees from countries outside the EU in the last three months of 2018.
This was an increase of 130,000 compared with the equivalent period 12 months earlier, and the highest number since records started in 1997.
The non-EU total comprises 277,000 workers from Africa, 593,000 from Asia, 299,000 from America and Oceania, and 126,000 from European countries that are not members of the EU.
Year-on-year rises were seen across all of these groups, including an 85,000 increase in the Asia category.
Figures for specific nationalities show the non-EU workforce included 194,000 Indians, 107,000 Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, 96,000 Americans, 71,000 Australians and New Zealanders, and 64,000 South Africans.
The number of EU nationals working in the UK fell by around 61,000 year-on-year to 2.27 million in October to December.
A drop in employees from eight eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 has fuelled the decrease.
The figures, published by the Office for National Statistics, show 869,000 people working in the UK in the latest quarter were from EUA8 states – the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
This was down 89,000 compared with 12 months earlier, and 184,000 fewer than the record high of 1.05 million in July to September 2016, just after the EU referendum.
The year-on-year reduction seen for EUA8 workers was not replicated in employment levels for other groups of EU countries.
In October to December, there were just over a million nationals of 14 long-term EU member states including Germany, Italy, Spain and France, as well as 370,000 Romanians and Bulgarians, working in the UK.
In both cases the numbers were up slightly compared with the previous year.
Employment levels by country of birth showed a similar picture to nationality statistics.
The number of EU-born people working in the UK in the last three months of 2018 fell by 76,000 year-on-year, to 2.30 million.
There were 3.35 million workers born outside the bloc, a rise of 159,000 compared with a year earlier.
Separate net migration figures have sparked claims of a “Brexodus” since the 2016 vote, but statisticians stressed that the employment estimates published on Tuesday do not measure flows of recent migrants to the UK.
There is some evidence that this reduction in labour supply from the EU has resulted in higher levels of non-EU migration Economics professor Jonathan Portes
ONS senior statistician Matt Hughes said most of the growth in employment over the past year is among British nationals.
“However, the number of overseas nationals in work is still rising, despite a drop in the number of so-called ‘A8’ workers, due to more people from non-EU countries being in work,” he added.
Jonathan Portes, professor of economics at King’s College London, said the data confirms there has been a “significant ‘Brexit effect’ on migration from the EU”.
He said “Brexit-related uncertainty and insecurity” has made the UK a “less attractive place for EU citizens to live and work”, adding: “At the same time, there is some evidence that this reduction in labour supply from the EU has resulted in higher levels of non-EU migration.”
Tej Parikh, senior economist at the Institute of Directors, said: “With UK employment at a record high, businesses have been compelled to recruit internationally.
“While many have naturally chosen to hire from the EU given its geographical proximity and the relative ease of hiring, some firms have recently found it more challenging to attract EU workers while Brexit uncertainty lingers.
“Despite the additional rigmarole of recruiting from outside the EU, businesses have been driven into hiring workers from further afield.
“With freedom of movement set to end, the Government’s post-Brexit immigration system must not impose further limitations on businesses’ ability to attract talent from around the world.”
In December, ministers presented plans for the biggest shake-up of the immigration regime for more than 40 years.
Under the proposed “skills-based” system, a new temporary work route will be created, the annual cap on skilled work visas will be scrapped, and employers wanting to sponsor overseas employees will no longer be required to carry out a “resident labour market test”.