The number of EU-born graduates in Britain fell by 50,000 during the last three months of 2016, according to a new report that says the fall could be due to the Brexit vote.
The total number of EU-born citizens in the UK dropped by a similar number, to a total of about 2,300,000, according to the Resolution Foundation think tank.
The data is quarterly – collected every three months – and the foundation warns that the findings can be volatile. But the report's author Stephen Clarke, a research and policy analyst at the foundation, said in a statement that while "it’s too early to draw any firm conclusions … it seems the [Brexit] vote has already had an effect".
"The initial reduction appears to have been driven by graduates," he said, "with some of the fastest falls being in finance and the public sector." He said companies should be prepared for a drop in the availability of skilled migrant labour, "not just the lower-paid sectors which have dominated much of the debate".
Rob Ford, a professor of political science at the University of Manchester who specialises in public attitudes to immigration, told BuzzFeed News it was important to be wary of the data, but that if it really represented a long-term drop in graduates coming to the UK, that could be "potentially harming Britain".
While the public have negative views about immigration as a whole, high-skilled graduate immigrants are positively regarded, he said. "If your aim is to get immigration down this seems the worst way to do it."
"It's just quarterly data, and it could just be a quirk," he said. "Or it could be a real but temporary thing, reflective of uncertainty – 'I want to move to Britain, but the Brexit vote's made it a den of racism.' Maybe they'll move next year instead." But it is consistent with the idea that high-skilled Europeans with lots of options would be the ones most likely to choose to avoid Britain and try somewhere else, he said.
The report "highlights the stakes" of the Brexit process, said Ford. "There are a lot of high migration demand sectors, high-skilled sectors – I work in one – which rely a lot on EU labour and regionally integrated labour markets. If Britain becomes less attractive to that labour then it can pose some very serious problems.
"We're talking about thousands of nurses for hospitals, thousands of students for our universities, thousands of workers and researchers for our great industries. To say this is potentially harming Britain doesn’t strike me as an abuse of the data.
"It's not a red warning light, but it's definitely a yellow one."
While the number of EU-born graduates in the UK fell, the number of those with "intermediate" qualifications – defined as those who left education after the age of 16 but before 21 – actually increased by 20,000.
The number of people from the eight "accession" countries that joined the EU in its 2004 enlargement – Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia – fell by 45,000. The number from the original 14 EU countries fell by 30,000. This was offset by a 25,000 increase in the number of people from Bulgaria and Romania, for whom migration restrictions were lifted in 2014.
Tom Chivers is a science writer for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
Contact Tom Chivers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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