Brexodus: UK immigration falls as EU citizens leave Britain

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May tours the bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis in Guildford, England, Wednesday Aug. 23, 2017. The Dennis company has announced 44 million pounds (48 million euro) backing from the UK government to secure overseas orders, including an order for a fleet of buses bound for Mexico. (Jack Taylor / Pool via AP)

LONDON (AP) — Net migration to Britain has fallen to a three-year low as a growing number of European Union citizens have left the country following last year’s Brexit referendum.

Data released Thursday by the Office for National Statistics provides evidence that the uncertainty and economic jitters caused by Britain’s vote to quit the EU are deterring immigrants and sparking a “Brexodus.”

The statistics office said net migration — the difference between arrivals and departures — was 246,000 in the year to March 31, a fall of 81,000 on a year earlier. More than half the change was due to a decline of 51,000 people in net migration from the EU.

A total of 122,000 EU citizens left Britain in the year to March, up 31,000 from the year before and the highest outflow in nearly a decade.

There was a particularly sharp rise in departures from citizens of the “EU 8” — the eastern European nations that joined the bloc in 2004. Hundreds of thousands of Poles, Lithuanians and other eastern Europeans moved to Britain to work after 2004.

EU citizens have the right to live and work in any member state, and more than 3 million nationals of other EU countries reside in Britain.

When Britain leaves the EU in March 2019, it will have the power to set restrictions on the movement of people from the EU, leaving many EU citizens uncertain about their future rights in Britain.

Nicola White, head of international migration figures at the U.K. statistics office, said the figures “indicate that the EU referendum result may be influencing people’s decision to migrate into and out of the U.K., particularly EU and EU8 citizens.”

“It is too early to tell if this is an indication of a long-term trend,” she said.

A fall in the value of the pound since last year’s referendum and a slowdown in the British economy may also be making the country less attractive to migrants. The statistics agency confirmed Thursday that the economy grew by a modest 0.3 percent in the second quarter of 2017 from the previous three months, slower than any other Group of Seven economy.

Pro-EU opposition politicians and business leaders said the decline in migration was an early-warning sign, and Britain would face a shortage of workers if it severely restricted immigration after Brexit.

Matthew Percival, head of employment at the Confederation of British Industry said the loss of “vital skills” should concern everyone in Britain.

But Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government, which has a longstanding and unmet pledge to cut net immigration below 100,000 a year, said the figures were “encouraging.”

“People who come to our country to work bring significant benefits to the U.K., but there is no consent for uncontrolled immigration,” said immigration minister Brandon Lewis.

Europe-Africa summit yields new approach to asylum claims

Rescuers transfer African migrants to a rescue boat during a rescue operation from the Aquarius vessel of SOS Mediterranee NGO and MSF (Doctors Without Borders) in the sea some 25 Nautical miles (29 miles, 46 kilometers) north of the Libyan coast, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Aug 28, 2017 1:23PM (GMT-07:00)

PARIS (AP) — The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain agreed Monday on a new policy to grant asylum to vulnerable migrants who apply for protection while in Africa instead of their destination countries.

At a Europe-Africa summit in Paris aimed at finding long-elusive solutions to illegal migration, the European leaders also agreed to help the African countries through which Europe-bound migrants usually pass with border controls.

French President Emmanuel Macron, the summit’s host, called it the most effective and far-reaching migration meeting in months, though he didn’t say how much the new measures would cost and many specifics remained unclear.

In a joint statement, the four leaders acknowledged the need to initiate a process in Chad and Niger that would lead to the resettlement of “particularly vulnerable migrants” in Europe.

They announced they plan to carry out “protection missions” in the African nations in cooperation with the United Nations’ refugee and migration agencies.

The process would allow migrants to immigrate legally to Europe if they are on an eligibility list provided by the UN refugee agency and registered with authorities in Niger and Chad.

The pre-asylum centers would receive European financing, according to a top French diplomat. The official, in keeping with French presidential policy, requested anonymity and would not provide details on the precise locations and procedures for the missions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said European countries must clearly define which asylum-seekers have legitimate humanitarian needs and who is fleeing poverty. She called it “very, very important” that the possibility of resettlement is coupled “with an end to illegal migration.”

The African leaders at the summit — the prime minister of Libya’s U.N.-backed government, Fayez Serraj, Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno and Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou — stressed that fighting poverty must be a central part of any migration strategy. They asked for Europe’s help in giving human smugglers legal ways of making money.

Issoufou said that poverty is what drives people to emigrate to Europe and into trafficking, and that it’s important “to find alternatives for the smugglers to leave criminal activity,” such as commerce or farming.

Helping chaotic Libya was a key part of Monday’s meetings, and Serraj asked for more support to fight migrant trafficking and in monitoring his country’s southern border.

Merkel said Europe also needs to “urgently” rethink its asylum system, which requires migrants to seek refugee status in the first country they reach. The requirement has put a burden on Greece and Italy, where waves of rickety boats carrying smuggled migrants have arrived in recent years.

The seven world leaders also discussed security cooperation before the Europeans held separate talks focused on European Union matters.

The interior ministers from Libya, Chad, Niger and Mali, who were meeting with Italy’s interior minister in Rome on Monday, said the Paris summit’s agenda “can constitute the beginning of a new relationship between Europe and Africa.”

The ministers also renewed a pledge to back peace accords among Libya’s southern tribes and to stress the importance of backing Libya in the creation of a border guard force.

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Angela Charlton in Paris, Frances D’Emilio in Rome and David Rising in Berlin contributed