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The number of EU citizens who emigrated from the UK last year is the highest on record, the Office for National Statistics has said.

A total of 139,000 left the country in 2017. The only other year when the EU emigration figures came close was in 2008, when the figure was 134,000.

Net long-term migration to the UK from the EU was 101,000 last year, the lowest estimate in five years.

The ONS data is for the first full calendar year since the Brexit vote.

Net migration – the difference between the number of people coming to live in the UK for at least 12 months and those emigrating – from countries outside the EU has risen to 227,000, the highest level since September 2011.

The government’s aim is to cut overall net migration, from the EU and outside the EU, to the tens of thousands.

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Media captionBBC examines the statistics of migration over decades across the world

‘Sustainable levels’

The ONS said: “The estimated number of EU citizens coming to the UK ‘looking for work’ continued to decrease over the last year and the number coming to the UK for a definite job has remained stable.”

Immigration minister Caroline Noakes said: “What these statistics show is that more of the people who are coming to the UK are coming for the reasons we would want – to take up a definite job or to study.

“More EU nationals continue to arrive than leave and as the ONS have made clear, net migration has been broadly stable since late 2016. But while it is not unusual to see quarterly ups and downs, we know more needs to be done if we are to bring net migration down to sustainable levels.”

Lord Green of Deddington, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said the new figures were “very disappointing”, adding: “It’s time for the government to get serious about reducing immigration instead of caving into every demand of the immigration lobby.”

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said the data suggests the UK is “still an attractive country, but its allure for EU migrants has declined considerably over the past couple of years”.

Shadow home secretary Diana Abbott said it was “clear to almost everyone except Theresa May that the net migration target should go”.

But the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We remain committed to bringing net migration down to sustainable levels, and that is the tens of thousands.”

Analysis

By Danny Shaw, BBC home affairs correspondent

Last year, 240,000 people from European Union countries came to live in Britain. The number of EU migrants has been falling since June 2016 – the month of the referendum – and is now at a similar level to mid-2014.

At the same time, emigration of EU nationals from Britain has been steadily increasing and at 139,000 is the highest level on record.

The EU emigration figures are a function of the number of EU nationals living in Britain; there are some 3.5 million in the country, so it’s to be expected that departure levels are higher now than in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.

Nevertheless, the fact they’ve risen so sharply would appear to be further evidence of the impact of the Brexit vote.

As for migration from countries outside Europe, 311,000 people arrived in the UK last year – back to levels last seen in 2011.

It suggests that even if the government takes greater control of EU migration after Brexit, the challenge of getting the right level of immigration from outside Europe remains.

While net migration is continuing to add to the UK population, the 2017 figure of 282,000 is down from record highs recorded in 2015 and early 2016.

It is the highest for 18 months, however.

Emigration has shown a gradual increase since 2015 and is currently around 350,000, the ONS said. Immigration has stayed roughly stable at about 630,000, the report showed.

Source: BBC