With or Without EU?

How changes to European migration will affect cities after Brexit

EU migration is vital to the success of cities, and this includes migrants with both high and low skills.

Report published on 22 August 2018 by Gabriele Piazza and Naomi Clayton

This report considers the contribution that EU migrants make to urban economies in England and Wales, and the impact that post-Brexit changes to migration policy could have in cities.

Key findings

  • Cities are the go-to place for EU migrants: more than two-thirds of EU migrants live in cities, with London alone accounting for more than a third. This is because of the economic opportunities that cities provide, with the most successful places attracting the largest number of EU workers.
  • But net migration from the EU to UK cities is already falling following the EU referendum prior to any significant policy change regarding EU migrants. This is a sign that the country is becoming a less attractive place to live and work.
  • The impacts of changes in migration are likely to differ across different cities and sectors. Cities in the Greater South East, such as Cambridge, London, Peterborough and Oxford, are among the most reliant: in these places around one in every ten workers comes from the rest of the EU. And in certain sectors, such as hospitality and construction, this share is significantly higher.
  • Overall, the profile of EU migrants suggests that they make a positive contribution to the economy: they are younger, more qualified and more likely to be in work than the native population. Yet variations in the profile of migrant workers in different cities mean the economic and fiscal contribution of migrants is likely to vary from city to city.


  • In moving towards a new immigration system, Government should ensure that there is a minimum two-year implementation period in place whether the UK leaves the EU with a deal or not. This will allow time to debate, construct and implement an immigration system that works for the whole economy.
  • In designing a new immigration system, Government should explore all of the options available to them and ensure that any new system is responsive to the needs of the economy. This means dropping the net migration target and caps on visas and recognising the importance of high-skilled and low-skilled migrants to the economy. As an overwhelmingly urban issue, Government should work with city leaders to design a national system that works for all parts of the UK.



With or without EU — How changes to European migration will affect cities after Brexit PDF (5 MB)

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