Net migration to the UK reaches a record high of 504,000

Net migration to the UK rose to a record high of more than half a million people in the year to June 2022, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics on Thursday.

The increase in long-term arrivals in the UK was driven by a post-pandemic uptick in international studies and by the influx of Ukrainian and Afghan refugees and Hong Kong residents. Overseas recruitment by British employers – particularly the NHS – also contributed.

“Brexit has not reduced net migration. . . The end of free movement does not mean the UK is closed to migrants; just open it in a different way,” says Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College, London. But he added that future flows are unlikely to remain at current levels and it is too early to say whether overall work-related migration will increase.

The data indicated that immigration reached 1.1 million in the 12 months to June, with 560,000 emigrating, leading to a net immigration of 504,000. This is about three times the net immigration total in the previous year, when the pandemic weighed on international travel, and double the historical average.

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The increase conflicts with the government’s stated goal of reducing net immigration, which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed earlier this week, rejecting calls from business leaders to relax visa rules.

Downing Street said on Thursday that Sunak remains “fully committed to bringing the overall numbers down”, adding “there are some unprecedented and unique circumstances that have a significant impact on these statistics”. Number 10 added that the prime minister had “not set a specific timetable” for cutting back on immigration.

Jay Lindop, director of the ONS Center for International Migration, said an “unprecedented” series of world events, including the end of coronavirus lockdowns, the post-Brexit transition, the war in Ukraine and the resettlement of Afghans and British nationals from Hong Kong, had all contributed to “record levels of long-term immigration”. This meant it was too early to say whether the higher inbound migration would continue, she added.

The ONS said Thursday’s estimates were preliminary and experimental because they were based on a new methodology, based on administrative data collected by various government departments. However, the figures provide the most complete indication to date of how the post-Brexit changes to UK migration policy are affecting the population.

Greg Thwaites, director of research at the Resolution Foundation, said the data suggested migration patterns had “fundamentally changed after Brexit”, with 51,000 more EU citizens leaving the UK than arrived in the year to June.

The ONS said that of the 1.1 million people who came to Britain on a long-term basis, 704,000 came from outside the EU – an increase of 379,000 on the previous year. The net migration figure of 504,000 is in line with official estimates that net migration would ultimately amount to just over 200,000 per year.

If migration continues at a higher level, increasing the size of the UK labor force, it would have an impact on the economy and public finances. The Office for Budget Responsibility said last week that an upgrade in the net migration forecast was the only factor contributing “materially” to the UK’s potential growth prospects over the next five years.

However, both the Interior Ministry and independent experts said the latest numbers are not a reliable guide to future trends, with immigration likely to slow and emigration increasing in the coming years.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, said unusually high levels of immigration were driven by humanitarian routes, the recovery of international studies and the high demand for NHS staff, with policy decisions made as a result of Brexit played a smaller role.

“We can’t assume they represent a ‘new normal,’ and it would be hasty to make major policy decisions based on these numbers alone,” she said.

The ONS has also downgraded its migration estimates for the past two years. It now puts net migration for the year to June 2020 at 88,000, a total that grew to 173,000 for the year to June 2021.

The ONS said the fastest growth in visa issuance in the past year was for students. Many of them will leave the UK at the end of their education, although a recent relaxation of visa rules could allow more people to stay and work after graduation than in previous years.

Schemes for Ukrainians, Afghans and Hong Kong residents accounted for 140,000 of the total net migration. But the numbers exclude people who arrived via clandestine routes.

Quarterly visa issuance statistics, published separately by the Interior Ministry on Thursday, confirmed the overall picture painted by the ONS data. It also showed that in the year to September 2022, 44,500 people crossed the Channel in small boats, almost half of them in the three months to September.

Figures from the Ministry of the Interior showed that 72,000 asylum applications were submitted in the year to September, an increase of 88 percent on the previous year. However, the number of initial decisions on asylum applications increased by only 11 percent, bringing the backlog of unprocessed applications to 143,000.

Additional reporting by Sebastian Payne

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