The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has this morning released its migration figures for the year ending (YE) on June 2016. The data shows that net migration to the UK has remained stable at 335,000 (compared to 336,000 YE June 2015). However, gross immigration has risen to 650,000 (up 11,000 from YE June 2015), along with gross emigration, which is estimated at 315,000 (up 12,000 from YE June 2015).

While it is true that gross immigration estimates represent a record high, a closer analysis of the component pieces offers a little more nuance.

A breakdown by nationality indicates that EU immigration to the UK is estimated at a record high of 284,000, with trends showing it at near parity with non-EU immigration (289,000) for the first time. This is an interesting finding given that the data captures the run-up to the Brexit vote. However, the ONS finds no “significant impact” ahead of the vote, undermining the assumption that a higher number of nationals of other EU member states brought forward their move to the UK because they saw the 23 June referendum as some sort of natural cut-off point in the event the UK voted to leave the EU.

Meanwhile, the number of British citizens returning to the UK has fallen by 8,000 from the same time last year, to 77,000.

Gross Immigration Estimate itemprop=Source: ONS

Looking at EU inflows by group citizenship, the level of immigration to the UK from the EU15 (138,000) and the EU8 (73,000) has remained largely stable compared with the previous year (rising from 132,000 and 68,000 respectively). By contrast, immigration from the EU2 (Romania and Bulgaria) has increased by 12,000 from 58,000 in YE June 2015 to 70,000.

A closer look at their reason for arrival paints a more nuanced picture

Most people still chose to immigrate to the UK for work, according to the estimates for total immigration. However, of the 311,000 who arrive for work, 130,000 came without a definite job in the YE June 2016, representing a statistically significant increase of 23,000 from the same time last year. Equally, of the 190,000 EU citizens coming to the UK for work, 82,000 arrived without a definite job, a statistically significant increase of 21,000 on the previous years’ figures. This finding in particular looks certain to increase pressure on the Government to deliver an alternative to existing EU rules on free movement of jobseekers as part of the upcoming Brexit negotiations. Interestingly, breaking this down by EU group citizenship reveals the following: 60% of EU2 citizens immigrated to the UK with a firm job offer in the YE June 2016, identical to the previous year. However, the proportion of those arriving from EU15 and EU8 countries with definite work fell from 69% to 60%, and 57% to 49% respectively.

Looking at non-EU work related immigration shows that the number of Tier 2 visas issued in the YE June 2016 increased by 1% on the previous year. In particular, the information technology sector sponsored the greatest proportion of Tier 2 visa applications this year (42%), followed by professional, science and technical activities sectors (19%) and financial and insurance sectors (12%).

The second most common reason for immigration to the UK remains study. However, the total number of people immigrating for long-term education (over 12 months study) is estimated to be 163,000 for the YE June 2016, a statistically significant reduction of 30,000 from the previous year. This is also the lowest estimate for this form of immigration since December 2007. In particular, there was a significant drop in EU citizens coming to the UK to study, from 47,000 in YE June 2015 to 34,000.

Estimates for gross immigration may be higher compared with the same time last year, but the composition of this immigration has shifted. Again, these figures account for the year to June 2016, the effect of the Brexit vote on long-term international migration cannot yet be gleaned. Nonetheless, the fall in the number of foreign students might well become a reason for concern if the UK wishes to remain a magnet for talent from Europe and the rest of the world after Brexit.