Latest immigration figures show an "alarming" increase in people leaving the country, business groups say

Mark Sands
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The UK will head to the polls on 8 June. (Source: Getty)

The latest round of immigration figures have raised concerns with business groups, who say the numbers reflect an "alarming" increase in departures from the UK.

Net migration to the UK was 248,000 last year - down 84,000 from 2015, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The change was driven by a statistically significant increase in emigration.

Emigration was up 40,000 from 2015, and mainly comprised EU citizens (117,000, up 31,000 from 2015) and a decrease of 43,000 in immigration.

Responding to the statistics, Institute of Directors head of employment and skills Seamus Nevin warned that the UK could be damaged by a significant reductions in the size of its workforce.

"Alarmingly, the fall in net migration is being driven as much by people leaving as by fewer arriving. This is a big worry for employers who risk losing key members of staff in positions that cannot easily be replaced from the home-grown pool available."

He added: "There is a well expressed public desire for increased control of immigration but all parties in the general election should set out clearly the costs of any proposals they make.

"The Office for Budget Responsibility have calculated that cutting immigration to the "tens of thousands" would add £6bn a year to the national deficit, just in terms of the direct reduction in the taxes collected and so not including wider economic impacts."

Read More: May defends migration policy: "People do support the immigration target"

The IoD is pressing the next government to lay out a new immigration system to support the UK's services sector, which comprises an estimated 80 per cent of British employment.

The concerns have been echoed by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

LCCI policy director Sean McKee said: “We continue to maintain that what is vital to London’s success is attracting and retaining talent and a full strength workforce, rather than imposing an arbitrary cap.

“We already know that certain sectors are struggling from a skills shortage and these figures, which show a surge in EU citizens leaving the UK last year, can only add to that shortage.”

The Conservatives remain committed to a goal of lowering net migration below 100,000 with this goal restated in the latest manifesto, but there has been significant opposition from within the party.

Cabinet members including foreign secretary Boris Johnson, international trade secretary Liam Fox and chancellor Philip Hammond have all expressed a desire for differing degree of reform.

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