The impact of Brexit on migrants and workers in the EU

Employment and Social Affairs

Estimated time of reading: ~ 2 minutes  

Immigration was one of the main reasons that led voters in the United Kingdom to support the “Leave” campaign at the Brexit referendum. EU workers from Eastern Europe were approximately 1.2 million in 2015, a few months before the vote: Polish citizens were more than 850,000, followed by Romanians (175,000) and Lithuanians (155,000). In the following years, the numbers of migrants coming to the UK from Eastern Europe started to fade, while regional governments, as in Poland, encouraged their young emigrant workforce to return home. This campaign was not a real success, as many workers preferred to move to other cities in Western Europe, such as Amsterdam or Berlin. A similar dynamic saw Romanian citizens “invited” by their government to return home in 2019. More recently, net migration of EU citizens has been negative since the pandemic and under the post-Brexit immigration system, with immigration falling by almost 70% compared to its 2016 peak, as stated by The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.

It is fair to say that Brexit had a huge impact on the migration fluxes in Europe in the years following the UK referendum and thus on European societies, especially the ones in the Eastern regions of the EU. Both high- and low-skilled workers had to face the consequences of the decision made by UK voters in 2016. This also led to major changes in everyday lives for many citizens across the continent, with regards to the movement of people and goods that a few years before was taken for granted. 

In addition, we have to consider how London, once seen as a central hub for people, firms, and private institutions from all over Europe, partially lost its status due to the effects of Brexit, to the benefit of other European capitals and major financial centres such as Dublin, Paris, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt. Hundreds of companies moved part of their business, staff, assets, or legal entities from the UK to the EU, and this dynamic could well continue in the next few years, as the longer-term impact of the Brexit referendum is still unclear. 

Written by: Francesco Marino

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