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Uncertainty leads to emigration

The Brexit vote has led to a massive increase of British citizens emigrating to European Union countries. Since the June 2016 referendum, the increase has amounted to an average migration of around 17,000 persons per year, or 30 percent more compared to the average migration between years 2008 to 2015. These are findings from a new study co-authored by WZB researcher Daniel Auer and Daniel Tetlow of the “Oxford in Berlin” research group. Their study is the first of its kind to look at the impact of ‘collective uncertainty’ that drives individual migration decisions.

According to the study, uncertainty about the economic and social situation in the UK is the main driver causing Britons to leave their home country. By emigrating to continental Europe, UK citizens seek to improve their economic and social future and mitigate some of the negative impact that Brexit is having on their lives such as loss of freedom of movement. At the same time, those who already live abroad in Europe are making longer term migration decisions by securing their status and becoming naturalized citizens in their country of residence.  This is particularly pressing for British citizens living in Germany because the law stipulates that only EU citizens can hold dual nationality and future residency rights for UK citizens across the EU-27 have yet to be fully clarified. The number of British citizens securing an EU-27 passport has increased by more than 500 percent across the entire EU since 2016; in Germany, that increase has reached 2,000 percent. Since the referendum, 31,600 Britons have been granted  German citizenship—nearly one-third of all British citizens living in Germany. In terms of naturalization rates in Germany, the UK is now second after Turkey, ahead of Poland and Romania. “The growth rates in migration and naturalization figures are at a level previously seen only in the wake of major economic or political crises,” says WZB researcher Daniel Auer.

To learn more about what motivates people to leave the UK, the two authors supplemented the quantitative analysis drawn from official migration statistics with qualitative interviews of Britons, who immigrated to Germany between 2007 and 2019. The interview results made clear that since 2016 the Brexit referendum had a huge impact on peoples migratory decisisons. Furthermore, the decision to migrate for those who arrived post referendum was found to be often made quite impulsiviely and over a much shorter period when compared to those who migrated prior to the referendum.  The tendency to take greater risks also heighted with those migrating post referendum: twice as many respondents who left the UK after the Brexit referendum said they were taking a “major risk” (57% compared to 24% pre-Brexit). Two-thirds were prepared to accept a loss of income resulting from the move; many arrived in Germany without a job. Moreover, one in three respondents said the Brexit vote had a direct impact on their mental health, triggering in some cases serious medical conditions. At the same time, the researchers observed a growing willingness among respondents to integrate into German society with British immigrants now making a stronger effort to learn the German language and engage with society. British migrants in Germany have one of the highest net average income rates of all migrant groups at 2.812 Euros a month and therefore make a considerable contribution to the German economy.

“We are observing the beginnings of a new social migration phenomena in this British-European identity that has strong economic muscle. And this has long term implications for the UK but also for the EU destination countries in terms of future migration and integration policy” ,” says co-author Daniel Tetlow and researcher with Oxford in Berlin.

Read the full press release here.

Ausserhofer / privat

Daniel Auer is a research fellow at the Migration, Integration, Transnationalization unit.

Daniel Tetlow is a scholar at Oxford in Berlin.

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The study Brexit, Collective Uncertainty and Migration Decisions was published as a WZB Discussion Paper (SP VI 2020-102). Download it here.

Oxford University have featured news on the study here.