Brexit uncertainty and migration decisions spark brain drain concerns | University of Oxford
There has been a huge increase in UK citizens taking out EU passports since the Brexit vote
Credit: Shutterstock There has been a huge increase in UK citizens taking out EU passports since the Brexit vote

Brexit uncertainty and migration decisions spark brain drain concerns

Brexit has sparked major changes in migration decisions, equivalent to the impact of a serious economic or political crisis, according to a pioneering joint study between the Oxford-in-Berlin research partnership and the WZB Social Sciences Center Berlin.

The study reveals the UK is facing a potential brain drain of highly-educated British citizens, who have decided to invest their futures in continental Europe. Based on OECD and Eurostat data, it shows  migration from the UK to EU countries increased by some 30%, compared to pre-Brexit numbers and the number of British citizens obtaining an EU member state passport increased by more than 500% across the Continent, and by more than 2000% in Germany.

The study, authored by Daniel Tetlow of Oxford-in-Berlin and Daniel Auer of WZB, compares changes in migration and naturalisation patterns of migrating UK citizens before and since the Brexit referendum.  Their analysis reveals Brexit has been the dominant driver of migration decisions since 2016, by comparison with stable migration flows of other EU nationals over the same period.

According to the study, the numbers of UK citizens obtaining EU member state passports provides evidence that an increasing number of UK immigrants are making long-term migration decisions to protect themselves from some of the negative effects of Brexit.

According to the study, the numbers of UK citizens obtaining EU member state passports provides evidence that an increasing number of UK immigrants are making long-term migration decisions to protect themselves from some of the negative effects of Brexit

The study authors maintain that, since 2015, when the Brexit referendum was announced, the UK to EU migration and naturalisation trajectories have diverged dramatically from the norm and the numbers have continued on this trajectory in the subsequent years of observation.

Dr Auer says, ‘These increases in numbers are of a magnitude that you would expect when a country is hit by a major economic or political crisis.’

Additional study data collected from controlled interviews of British citizens across all 16 German federal states, reveals increased levels of risk-taking and impulsivity to deal with the impact of Brexit. Decisions were also taken and acted upon over a much shorter time period than equivalent decisions made before the Brexit vote.  As a result, more than double the number of interviewees, who migrated post-referendum, reported taking a ‘big risk’ (57% vs 24% pre-Brexit).  In addition, the majority of interviewees who migrated post-referendum, agreed either to a pay-cut or a pay freeze as part of their migration decision, when before referendum the majority received a pay rise.

We’re observing a new social migration phenomena and a redefining of what it means to be British-European

An unexpected outcome of the study, of UK citizens in Germany, was that many have made a greater commitment to integrate or 'socially embed’ in their local communities as a direct result of Brexit. The study found in many respondents a commitment to language learning and local community work along with a pride in a new British European identity.  Since the referendum, the German government has decided to grant 31,600 British citizens German citizenship while allowing them to maintain their UK identity indefinitely.

‘We’re observing a new social migration phenomena and a redefining of what it means to be British-European,’ says Mr Tetlow.

The study concludes, in the last four years, ‘collective uncertainty’, triggered by Brexit, was and still remains powerful enough to alter migratory behaviour at scales comparable to the impact of a large-scale economic shock.

See a blog by the authors here.