Brexit brain drain as British business sees high-skilled talent ebbing away

30 November 2017

Today’s ONS migration statistics show another drop in net migration to 230,000 with EU net migration being the lowest since June 2013 (down 82,000 from the previous year) while EU emigration increased by 28,000 to 123,000. These figures are representative of a growing “brain drain” of skilled workers leaving the UK to look for opportunities elsewhere in the EU, according to leading business immigration specialists Laura Devine Solicitors.

The increase in emigration is due in large measure to EU nationals losing confidence in the UK as a destination to build their futures in, and leaving in growing numbers or choosing not to relocate to the UK as a result, according to businesses the firm has spoken to. Announcements like those recently highlighting the relocation of major European agencies moving to Paris and Amsterdam are certain to fuel the trend.

Sophie Barrett-Brown, Head of UK immigration at business immigration specialist Laura Devine Solicitors, says:

“The migration statistics released today, revealing a drop in net migration, suggest concerning trends. It is clear that the Brexit vote is influencing people’s decision to migrate into and out of the UK.

“Whilst net migration remains positive overall, the numbers deciding to leave highlights a growing loss of confidence in the UK. Since the Brexit referendum there has been no change in EU free movement law and no material changes to the UK Immigration Rules driving this reduction, so the fact that fewer skilled people are coming to the UK and more are leaving is not due to greater control of migration, rather it reflects the personal choice of migrants – the numbers are falling because the UK is seen as a less desirable place to do business, to live and work. A drop in net migration in this context is not a cause for celebration, but a deeply concerning reflection on the perceived prospects of the UK’s economy and desirability as a destination for top talent.

“The growing brain drain of skilled labour due to Brexit is a real concern for many British employers. Businesses tell us those leaving come disproportionately from higher skilled backgrounds. Architects, engineers, experienced professional services workers and leaders in business and finance are just some of those leaving or declining to apply for or accept roles in the UK, posing a real threat to the businesses and professions Britain relies on for its reputation as a world-leading, highly-skilled, creative, technological and innovative economy.

“The government could quickly relieve some of the toxic uncertainty around Brexit by agreeing the ‘cut-off’ date for EU citizens currently living in the UK (and British citizens living in other EU member states) as 29 March 2019, in line with the EU’s position. This would eliminate the lingering spectre of a cut-off date in the past, which has left many EU citizens already in the UK, and those considering job offers prior to Brexit, uncertain whether they will be permitted to remain in the UK in the long term. Only those arriving before the cut-off date will be able to obtain settled status under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement – those arriving after will need to meet the as-yet-unknown new rules in order to remain when the transitional period ends.

“The government’s choice to perpetuate this uncertainty may be driven by fears of a wave of EU migration immediately prior to Brexit – but is it willing to accept large numbers of net contributors to the British economy leaving the country as a trade-off? Individuals and businesses are making decisions for their future now and voting with their feet – reducing uncertainty is critical to best serve the future prosperity of the UK.”