Tunbridge Wells was just one of two districts in Kent to see a decline in the number of immigrants looking for work in the borough last year, new figures have revealed.
Data collated by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) showed a sharp drop in national insurance numbers allocated to overseas nationals in Tunbridge Wells.
The decline of 12.2 per cent far exceeds the only other fall, which was recorded in Dover, of 2.7 per cent. Across Kent as a whole during the year April 2015 to March 2016 there was an increase of just under three per cent.
In total, 999 overseas workers were given a National Insurance Number in 2015/16 in Tunbridge Wells, down from 1138 the year before.
The majority of new arrivals came from EU accession states, with Romania the county of origin for 223 applicants, followed by Bulgaria (204), and Poland (125).
DWP data only records those seeking work, for which a national insurance number is needed. Children and other dependents are not included in these figures. Once an overseas national has obtained a national insurance number, he or she is entitled to some benefits alongside the right to work and an obligation to pay tax.
These include income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, child benefit and child tax credit. However, Rob McNeil of The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said the figures may not be indicative of a long term trend.
“One thing to consider is that the place where you apply for your national insurance number isn’t necessarily going to be the same as the place that you end up living or working – so it’s perfectly possible that the number of migrants in the population there may be stable or growing, even if there has been decline in applications in the area.
“Tunbridge Wells is an expensive place to live, so it may be that people are living elsewhere when they apply for their national insurance numbers, and then moving to Tunbridge Wells if they get a job there.
“In short, the answer is that the number of applications going up or down isn’t proof of the migrant population doing the same.”
Robert Hogben, General Manager of The Mount Edgcumbe pub, warned the hospitality sector in Tunbridge Wells could suffer if this was the start of a long-term trend.
He said: “Like many businesses which deal with hospitality and catering we are quite reliant on workers born outside of the UK to make up our staff, so if less are moving into the borough we could struggle to fill vacancies.
“We consistently pay above the minimum wage, so we don’t hire them as cheap labour, but they are simply more willing to work in an industry which can be quite demanding.”