EU net migration has hit a six-year low as more European citizens are leaving the UK and fewer are arriving in the wake of the Brexit vote, new statistics show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said estimated net long-term migration to the UK from the EU was 74,000 in the year to June 2018 – 60 per cent lower than in June 2016, when it stood at 189,000, and the lowest level since 2012.

Meanwhile, the number of people coming from outside the bloc has increased over the last five years, with 248,000 more non-EU citizens arriving than leaving the UK – the highest since 2004.

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But the figures have fuelled concerns that Britain’s departure from the EU will leave the country worse off, as campaigners and politicians warn that jobs previously held by EU nationals will be left unfilled.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the figures reinforced the view that the government’s net migration target was “reckless and foolish”.

She added: “The target has never once been met and non-EU migration alone far outstrips it. The truth is international students provide a huge benefit to this country and we have shortages of doctors, nurses, care workers and many more.

“Yet, this government campaigns to slash these numbers. If that is the content of their new immigration bill, whenever they have finished fighting over it, we will all be worse off.”

Satbir Singh, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “We’ve had eight years of toxic rhetoric and a hostile environment targeting anyone in this country who happened to be born elsewhere. And two years of complete uncertainty about this government’s ability and willingness to protect rights after Brexit.

“But when a neighbour or a colleague or a friend says ‘enough now’ and leaves, we all lose out.  Now is the time for new ideas and a new conversation, for a better, fairer immigration system that works for everyone.”

The ONS data shows that net migration of people from Romania and Bulgaria has almost halved from 62,000 in the year ending June 2016, reaching an estimated 34,000 in the same period two years later. This is the lowest level since 2014, when these countries got full access to the UK labour market. 

Net migration of EU15 migrants – from the older EU member states such as Germany, Italy and Spain – fell from 84,000 in the year to June 2016 to 47,000 in the same period this year.

Overall, net migration continues to add to the population of the UK, as an estimated 273,000 more people moved to the country with an intention to stay for 12 months or more than left in the year ending June 2018. Over the year, 625,000 people moved to the UK and 351,000 people left.

Non-EU net migration was the highest since 2004, with 248,000 more non-EU citizens arriving than leaving the UK and at a similar level to that seen in 2011. Increases in immigration for both work and study have been seen in the most recent year, particularly for Asian citizens, the ONS said.

Jay Lindop, director of the Centre for International Migration at the ONS, said: “Net migration continues to add to the population and has remained fairly stable since its peak in 2016, with around 270,000 more people coming to the UK than leaving in the year ending June 2018.

“However, there are different patterns for EU and non-EU migration. Due to increasing numbers arriving for work and study, non-EU net migration is now at the highest level since 2004. In contrast, EU net migration, while still adding to the population as a whole, is at the lowest since 2012.

“Decisions to migrate are complex and people’s decision to move to or from the UK will be influenced by a range of factors.”

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “EU migrants have been leaving in larger numbers since the referendum, and net inflows have greatly decreased.

“The lower value of the pound is likely to have made the UK a less attractive place to live and work in and economic conditions in several of the top countries of origin for EU migrants have improved.”

She added that there were doubts about the accuracy of the non-EU net migration figures, saying: “Other data sources do not support the idea that non-EU citizens are currently contributing so much to net migration.”

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