Immigration to the UK from the European Union hit a record high in the run-up to the Brexit vote

Net Immigration remains at a record high.
Net Immigration remains at a record high.
Image: Reuters/Luke MacGregor
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An estimated 650,000 people immigrated to Britain in the run-up to the Brexit vote—the highest number ever.

A record number of immigrants from the European Union (EU), 284,000, came to live and work in the UK in the year to June 2016, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). In the same period, 289,000 non-EU immigrants came to the UK and 77,000 Britons returned.

For the first time, Romanians were the largest group of migrants to Britain, making up 10% of all immigrants. “The main reason people are coming to the UK is for work, and there has been a significant increase in people looking for work particularly from the EU,” Nicola White, head of international migration statistics at the ONS, said in a statement.

Of the record 311,000 who came to the UK for work, 182,000 already had a job and 130,000 arrived looking for work. Net migration, the difference between the number of immigrants entering the UK and those leaving, was the second highest figure on record, 335,000—just a thousand under the previous peak a year earlier.

White said it was “too early to say what effect, if any, the EU referendum has had on long-term international migration.”

The government reaffirmed its commitment to reducing net migration to tens of thousands in September, but has failed to provide much detail. The government’s earlier efforts to reduce the number of student visas being granted to UK university applicants has apparently had some effect: The number of students choosing to study in the UK dropped from 193,000 in the year ending June 2015 to 163,000 in the year ending June 2016.

This reduction was particularly stark for Indian students. The number who opted to study at a British university was reduced by more than half, while the number of Indian students enrolling in the US rose by 71% in just two years.