3 years after Brexit, UK net migration has never been higher
New figures from the Office for National Statistics make uncomfortable reading for the UK's Rishi Sunak.
LONDON — It’s official: net migration to the U.K. is at an all-time high.
New figures published Thursday show migration added 606,000 people to the U.K.’s population in 2022 — the highest number on record.
The data from the Office for National Statistics is likely to prompt fresh criticism of the governing Conservatives, who promised in their 2019 election manifesto to ensure “overall numbers come down” at a time when net migration stood at 226,000.
The rise also comes three years after Britain left the EU touting more control over arrivals through a “points-based” system in place of the bloc’s free movement of people.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told ITV Thursday: “Numbers are too high, it’s as simple as that and I want to bring them down.” Labour accused him of having “no grip on immigration.”
There’s plenty of nuance in Thursday’s numbers. Jay Lindop, director of the Centre for International Migration at the ONS, said the “record levels of international immigration” to the U.K. had been driven by a “series of unprecedented world events,” including the end of COVID-19 lockdowns and British help for people fleeing Ukraine and Hong Kong.
“The main drivers of the increase were people coming to the U.K. from non-EU countries for work, study and for humanitarian purposes, including those arriving from Ukraine and Hong Kong,” he said.
“For the first time since using our new methods to measure migration, we have also included asylum seekers in our estimates, with around one in 12 non-EU migrants coming via this route.”
Lindop said there were also some signs “immigration has slowed in recent months, potentially demonstrating the temporary nature of these events.”
In a preemptive move Wednesday, the U.K.’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman promised a clampdown on student visas, although the ONS said students “typically stay for shorter periods than other migrants” and the majority “leave at the end of their study.”
‘Gone to ground’
Braverman on Thursday sent Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick to field an urgent House of Commons question from the opposition Labour Party.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper told MPs: “Today’s extraordinary figures, including doubling the number of work visas since the pandemic, show that the Conservatives have no plan and no grip on immigration.”
And she accused the home secretary of having “gone to ground” after a bruising week of media focus on her own conduct.
Cooper asked: “What is the point of her?”
A spokesperson for the U.K.’s Home Office said the country had “a proud history of providing protection for those who genuinely need it through our safe and legal routes,” pointing out that the U.K. had “welcomed over a hundred thousand people from Ukraine and Hong Kong last year.”
“At the same time we have also seen growth in the use of a range of visa routes including an unprecedented rise in the number of dependants arriving with students,” they added in a statement. “This has understandably contributed to higher levels of net migration.”
The statement said the government remained “committed to reducing overall net migration.”