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‘Unprecedented exodus’: why are migrant workers leaving the UK? | Migration news

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A new study says COVID has forced up to a million people to leave the country, but many people Al Jazeera spoke to cited Brexit as another pushing factor.

London, United Kingdom – Migrants have left the UK in large numbers, possibly the biggest population decline since World War II, according to a new study.

As many as 1.3 million foreign-born people have left the UK in just over a year – from July 2019 to September 2020 – the Center of Excellence for Statistics think tank said Thursday (ESCoE) from the United Kingdom, describing an ‘unprecedented exodus’ driven mainly by the economic fallout triggered by the global coronavirus pandemic.

The trend was particularly pronounced in London.

ESCoE said nearly 700,000 people may have left the capital during the same period. If that’s correct, that would mean the city has lost nearly eight percent of its population in just over 14 months.

The analysis was based on UK labor statistics.

The study’s authors noted a high number of job losses in sectors that depend heavily on foreign workers, such as the hotel industry.

“It appears that much of the burden of job losses during the pandemic fell on non-UK workers and this has manifested in return migration rather than unemployment,” they said.

Brexit, fuel departures in the event of a pandemic

COVID-19 has struck the UK, killing more than 86,000 people across the country, threatening the livelihoods of millions and plunging the country into its deepest recession in 300 years.

But a number of people who left the UK last year told Al Jazeera the pandemic was not the most important factor in their decision to move.

Instead, they said, it was mainly the country’s torturous exit from the European Union.

Freyja Graf-Caruthers, 50, said the ‘coronavirus threat’ gave her the last push to leave northeast England for her native Germany in June 2020, after years of heightened anti-immigration rhetoric and political crises that followed the UK referendum of June 2016 on EU membership.

“I had planned to leave the UK since the Brexit vote,” said University professor Graf-Caruthers. “[But] leaving was terrible, after 30 years of building my life in the UK; it was like tearing my heart apart.

Fabian Vella, a 32-year-old project manager, also cited Brexit as the reason for his return to France from London last year.

“I’m pretty convinced that Europe is a good thing,” he said. “And I didn’t feel like I wanted to live in a country that no longer wanted to live in the EU. The pandemic has just reinforced my desire to return to France.

‘No intention of ever coming back’

The authors of the ESCoE study said the exodus may be temporary, suggesting some may return when the pandemic subsides.

“But that may not be the case,” they warned, noting that a permanent drop in London in particular would have “profound” implications.

“The great changes in demographic trends in London, driven by economic changes and events, are by no means unprecedented in history,” they wrote. “The population of downtown London declined by 20% in the 1970s, so the recent picture of sustained growth driven by international migration is relatively recent.

Todd Foreman, a dual American and British national, was among those who left the capital in 2020.

He moved to Paris in October after witnessing the UK’s “change for the worse” as he struggled to separate from the EU.

“I see Brexit as a huge and tragic mistake fueled in large part by xenophobia, inappropriate British exceptionalism and flaws in Britain’s democratic structures,” said the 47-year-old financial services lawyer. “COVID played no role in my decision to emigrate… [although] this made the departure more difficult.

Foreman was clear there would be no turning back.

“I have no intention or desire to return to live in England,” he said.


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