AN ABINGDON immigration specialist has warned the country could be at the start of a Brexit 'brain drain'.

Migration figures published on Thursday by the Office for National Statistics showed net long-term migration to the UK fell below a quarter of a million in 2016 for the first time in nearly three years as arrivals from eastern and central European countries plunged dramatically.

Jonathan Beech, managing director of Migrate UK based in Abingdon, says the uncertainty around Brexit could prompt people to leave.

He said: "We already have evidence of some initial emigration that sectors like retail, manufacturing, health and food services, are suffering skills and labour shortages, with more than a quarter of employers predicting that their EU workers could leave their jobs and the UK this year.

"A Brexit ‘brain drain’ is particularly likely in the IT, finance and engineering sectors, but this could be swiftly averted if the new elected government guarantees their approach for EU nationals and their right to work during and after the Brexit process, while providing a workable solution for employers who rely heavily on skills from outside the UK.

"The latest statistics also further close the gap between EU and non-EU migration levels at 250,000 and 264,000 respectively.

"But the recent measures announced in the Conservative manifesto, doubling visa costs and raising the salary threshold?, will do little to curb the use of non-EU workers in sectors where there is a big demand for their skills."

The Conservatives have maintained their objective of reducing annual net migration to the tens of thousands ahead of the poll on June 8.

In its election manifesto, Labour said it was offering "fair rules and reasonable management of migration".

Mr Beech also advised for people to take the Home Office's latest advice, to avoid applying for permanent residence, lightly.

He added: " They know that until any future guarantee is made, that the rights of EU nationals living in the UK will only continue while the UK remains in the EU.

"Employers and HR teams wishing to retain EU workers should ensure that their house is in order.

"Keep HR files of all EU employees, endorsed and have passport copies and carry out your own internal audit to ensure all correct paperwork is in place should the Home Office make a visit.

"Where possible, inform EU nationals that whilst their status has not changed, they should be aware of their ability to apply for a Registration Certificate of Permanent Residence if they want to help safeguard their future in Britain."

The figures, the last official migration data before next month's election, show citizens from eight central and eastern European nations have partly driven the changes.