The number of EU nationals working in the UK has registered its steepest fall on record, new figures show.
A sharp drop in employees from eight east European countries that joined the bloc in 2004 has fuelled the decrease. Overall, there were 2.25 million EU nationals working in the UK from July to September, 132,000 fewer than a year earlier.
The Office for National Statistics said this was the largest annual fall since comparable records began in 1997. The figures show 881,000 of the EU workers employed in the UK in the latest quarter were citizens of the so-called EUA8 states, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
This was 154,000 fewer than in the equivalent period of last year, which was also the biggest annual fall since records started. The number of EUA8 employees is down by 173,000 compared with July-September 2016, just after the EU referendum, when it stood at a record level of more than a million.
The year-on-year reduction seen for EUA8 workers was not replicated in employment levels for other groups of EU countries. From July to September, there were 990,000 nationals of 14 long-term EU member states including Germany, Italy, Spain and France working in the UK, a slight increase on 986,000 a year earlier.
There were 363,000 Romanian and Bulgarian workers, up from 347,000 in the equivalent period of 2017.
Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, and restrictions on migrants from the two countries working in Britain were lifted in January 2014.
Statistics on employment levels by nationality have come under scrutiny following the Brexit vote.
Separate net migration figures have sparked claims of a “Brexodus”, but statisticians stressed that the estimates published on Tuesday do not measure flows of recent migrants to the UK.
Ministers are preparing to finally unveil proposals for the post-Brexit immigration regime before the end of the year. A white paper is expected to set out plans for a system which brings an end to free movement and prioritises higher-skilled workers.
Jonathan Portes, professor of economics at King’s College London, said: “The prospect of Brexit has clearly made the UK a much less attractive place for Europeans to live and work. “This will have significant negative economic and social impacts, given the dependence of sectors such as the NHS and social care on EU workers.”
Alp Mehmet, vice chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “These figures are good news. “The number of UK nationals in work has risen by nearly 450,000. “Additionally, employers appear to be adjusting to the lower inflow of labour from the EU and there are welcome indications that businesses are raising wages in order to attract more recruits.”
Meanwhile, the new figures show a rise in the number of workers from the rest of the world.
There were 1.24 million non-EU nationals working in the UK in July to September, 34,000 more than 12 months earlier.