THE UK is in the grip of a “deeply worrying Brexodus” as more EU nationals quit for the continent, it is claimed.

Official estimates show net migration to the UK has dropped to the lowest level in three years.

Net migration – the difference between movement to and from the UK – fell to 246,000 in the year to March – a drop of 81,000.

More than half that change is due to a decrease in net migration of EU citizens, which is down by 51,000.

The change comes as citizens from other EU countries flew out in their droves.

The number of those emigrating went up by 33,000 year-on-year to 122,000 – the highest outflow in almost a decade.

The figures include a sharp rise in the departure of migrants from Eastern Europe. The number of leavers from “EU8” countries – Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic – went up by 17,000.

Total EU net migration was estimated at 127,000 – down 51,000 on the previous year. The figure for migration from the rest of the world was also down by 14,000 to 179,000.

Nicola White, head of international migration statistics at the Office for National Statistics, said the results “indicate that the EU referendum result may be influencing people’s decision to migrate into and out of the UK, particularly EU and EU8 citizens”.

She went on: “It is too early to tell if this is an indication of a long-term trend.”

However, LibDem leader Vince Cable said the results are evidence of a “deeply worrying Brexodus” and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned of health service recruitment problems.

Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London, said the statistics “confirm that Brexit is having a significant impact on migration flows, even before we have left the EU or any changes are made to law or policy”.

And Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, called the results “a taste of what is likely to come” following the end of free movement.

Meanwhile, a study by the Food and Drink Federation found one third of firms surveyed had seen EU workers emigrate.

More than one third said they would become unviable if they had no access to EU workers.

The numbers come against a backdrop of a government goal to reduce net immigration to less than 100,000 a year.

SNP immigration spokesperson Stuart McDonald said: “The Tory government’s extreme approach to Brexit and immigration is actively damaging the economy, making the UK a less attractive place to live and work, and threatening businesses, jobs, and communities.

“Today’s warnings reinforce the need for the Scottish Government to be represented in the Brexit negotiations to ensure Scotland’s voice is heard and our interests are protected. They also highlight the need for devolution of immigration powers to ensure policies that meet the specific needs Scotland’s economy.”

However, Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis said: “The fall in net migration, for the third quarter in succession, is encouraging but we are not complacent. People who come to our country to work bring significant benefits to the UK, but there is no consent for uncontrolled immigration.”

Separate Home Office figures showed a huge post-referendum rise in the number of documents issued to EU nationals certifying their right to live in the UK permanently, with more than 130,000 in the year to the end of June.