Net migration to UK hits record high despite Tory promises to cut arrivals | Immigration and asylum
Net migration has hit a record high of over 600,000 despite ministers’ four-year pledges to bring the total below 245,000.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show overall migration for 2022 was 606,000, up 20% from the previous record high of 504,000 last year.
Total long-term immigration was estimated at around 1.2 million in 2022 and emigration at 557,000, the statistical body said.
This increase has been largely fueled by people from outside the European Union entering the UK to study, work or escape conflict or oppression.
According to ONS data, non-EU arrivals included 361,000 students and their families, 235,000 people coming for work-related reasons, 172,000 coming under humanitarian programs from countries including Ukraine, Hong Kong and Afghanistan, and 76,000 people seeking asylum.
Ministers prepared for the net migration figure for several weeks and managed expectations by telling the media that the figure could be as high as 1 million.
This figure is more than double the level recorded in 2019, when the Conservative Party pledged in its election manifesto to reduce immigration.
It’s particularly embarrassing for arch-Brexiters Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman, who have argued that leaving the EU would allow them to gain control of Britain’s borders.
The average net migration before Brexit was between 200,000 and 250,000 per year. Braverman said last year it aimed to reduce overall migration to “tens of thousands” and Sunak previously delivered on Boris Johnson’s pledge in 2019 to bring overall numbers below 245,000. This week, he declined to give a specific goal.
Despite Sunak’s promise to reduce the asylum backlog this year, the number of waits for a first decision has fallen from 166,261 to 172,758, according to Interior Ministry statistics. The number of waits over six months increased by around 10,000 to 128,812.
The number of foreign criminals and failed asylum seekers deported in 2022 was 38,000, the lowest number on record other than during the pandemic years, according to Home Office figures.
Immigration, through regular routes such as visa programs and irregular routes such as crossing the English Channel in small boats, will be an important political battleground in the general elections due next year.
Sunak claimed this week that the government’s new crackdown on international students – preventing them from bringing in dependents or switching to work visas before completing their studies, and also reviewing their interview requirements – was the “biggest measure ever taken” to fight legal immigration.
However, the ONS said evidence showed overseas students tended to leave once their courses had been completed. “Evidence suggests that students generally stay shorter than other migrants and that the majority leave after completing their studies; the latest data shows that those who arrived for study reasons in 2021 are now starting to leave,” he said.
Keir Starmer, the Labor leader, announced on Wednesday that his party would scrap a rule under which foreign staff brought into the UK to fill vacancies on the shortage occupations list, including health care workers, computing and engineering, could be paid up to 20% less than the equivalent domestic salary.
Rising net migration – the number of people entering the country minus those leaving – will lead to demands from Tory MPs to go further to deliver on their 2019 manifesto promise.
Although ministers say a crackdown on students would have a ‘tangible’ effect on net migration, their own forecasts acknowledged that net migration would still be around 500,000 by the time of the next election, scheduled for the end of 2024.