The number of EU workers coming to the West Midlands has plummeted in the light of the Brexit vote.
Figures published today (Thursday) by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show 6,475 fewer EU nationals registered for a National Insurance number (NINo) in the area in 2017 compared to 2016.
Campaigners blamed the Brexit vote and a lack of progress in negotiations for leaving migrant workers "in limbo" and discouraging them from moving to the UK.
In 2016, there were 25,700 new registrations by EU citizens in the West Midlands metropolitan area, while in 2017, there were 19,225.
Sandwell saw the biggest drop locally, by 1,243 or 31 per cent, from 3,948 in 2016 to 2,705 one year later.
Birmingham followed locally with 1,212 fewer EU registrations or 23 per cent, from 13,636 in 2016 to 10,517 in 2017.
Walsall saw the third biggest local drop with 560 fewer registrations by EU nationals or 27 per cent followed by Wolverhampton with a drop by 26 per cent from 4,619 to 3,407.
Numbers have fallen across all local authorities in the area. Dudley saw the smallest drop, by 22 per cent from 994 to 772.
A spokesperson of The3million, an organisation of EU citizens living in the UK, said: “EU citizens living in the UK have been in limbo for 600 days. Repeated assurances by the UK government have not been matched by a clear commitment to protect these citizens' rights. Add to this Theresa May's recent comments on ending freedom of movement rights for new arrivals post-Brexit and you understand why fewer Europeans are willing to start a life in the UK.”
In 2017, there was a total of 497,000 NINo registrations by EU citizens,128,000 fewer than one year earlier.
This corresponds to 73 per cent of the total 683,000 registrations, a drop by three per cent percentage points compared to 2016, when there were 622,847 NINo registered by EU citizens out of a total of 821,692 registrations.
Furthermore on Thursday the ONS also released figures on net migration - the difference between immigration into and emigration from a country - showing that fewer EU citizens are coming to the UK while the number of leavers has risen.
The number of EU citizens coming to the UK (220,000) decreased by 47,000 over the last year and is now at a level comparable with 2014. The number leaving the UK (130,000) is the highest recorded level since 2008. This means that net migration from the EU was 90,000, returning to levels last seen in 2012.
Why does this matter?
Regarding the people leaving, The3million spokesperson said: “It is a tragedy that so many well-integrated EU citizens are leaving the UK. Many of them are people who have lived in the UK for many years and have decided that they have had enough after 600 days in limbo.
“Both the decrease in immigration and increase in emigration of EU citizens as published today is showing that the UK is losing the battle to attract and even retain the ‘brightest and best’ as the Prime Minister set out as on objective in February 2017.
It is not only the growing economy in Europe or the fact that the UK is the only developed country where real wages have fallen despite a growing economy over the last 10 years that is deterring EU citizens. To attract and retain the brightest and best the UK needs to create a welcoming environment. Treating immigrants as mere commodities to be tolerated while they are economically useful misses the mark.”
What's the government view?
Caroline Nokes, Immigration Minister, said: "We are committed to controlled and sustainable migration - bringing net migration down to the tens of thousands. This means an immigration system that attracts and retains people who come to work and bring significant benefits to the UK but does not offer an open door to those who don't.
"Net migration remains 29,000 lower than it was a year ago and once we leave the EU we will be able to put in place an immigration system which works in the best interest of the whole of the UK.
"At the same time, we have been clear that we want EU citizens already living here to have certainty about their future and the citizens' rights agreement reached in December provided that.”
What does the future hold?
Fizza Quereshi, director of Migrant’s right Network, an NGO working and campaigning for the rights of all migrants said: “The ONS figures today highlight how the discussions on EU nationals’ rights post-Brexit have done little to reassure them to stay or, come to the UK. This means the government needs to offer meaningful assurances to EU nationals of their rights. Until this happens, it’s likely that more EU nationals will leave the UK, and others will seek to live in other EU states. If we continue to see this drop in numbers, then certain sectors such as the NHS, farming and hospitality will continue to suffer a staff shortage crisis. The government needs to stop obsessing with targets and numbers, and focus on supporting these sectors that are already under pressure to meet their staffing needs.”