Net EU migration into the UK fell to its lowest point since 2013 at the end of last year, continuing the marked decline in the numbers of EU immigrants which started at the time of the Brexit vote.
Some 240,000 EU citizens came to the UK in 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), a similar level to that seen in mid-2014, leaving net migration at around 101,000, the lowest level since June 2013.
By contrast, net migration from non-EU countries has risen significantly in recent months, with a 46 per cent rise in immigration in 2017 compared to 2016 pushing numbers to the highest level since 2010.
Recent data from the British Social Attitudes survey found a marked improvement in Britons' outlook on migration since the Brexit vote, but the government has remained committed to its target of reducing net migration to the "tens of thousands". Immigration was a central concern of the Leave campaign during the EU referendum, although there has been as yet no restriction on the number of workers who can come from the EU.
In its Brexit white paper, published last week, the government committed to ending the free movement of labour, although it has not yet given any indication of what a future migration regime will look like. It references a report due in September by the Migration Advisory Committee which will give policy guidance on future immigration policy.
Businesses have reacted with alarm to the fall in EU migration, which comes at a time when unemployment is at a four-decade low and multiple industries report skills shortages.
Recruitment and Employment Confederation chief executive Neil Carberry said: "Todays figures will worry employers who are already struggling to plug the labour and jobs shortages in key sectors. A decrease of available workers will dent UK business, stifle much needed growth and damage our competitiveness in areas such as food and distribution."
James Stewart, head of Brexit at KPMG UK, said construction, food production, retail and hospitality are "all struggling to find affordable labour, and costs are climbing".