Migration levels hit record high last year, new figures show

 (UK PARLIAMENT/AFP via Getty Imag)
(UK PARLIAMENT/AFP via Getty Imag)

Net migration to the UK has climbed to a record level, official statistics show, as the Government faces pressure to explain its inability to bring the numbers down.

Around 606,000 more people are estimated to have moved to the UK than left in the 12 months to December, data from the Office for National Statistics on Thursday showed, up from 504,000 in the 12 months to June 2022.

Those figures are substantially higher than the 226,000 level when the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto promised that “overall numbers will come down” following the introduction of post-Brexit border controls.

Rishi Sunak has promised action to bring down net migration, telling reporters on a recent trip to Japan that he wanted to be “crystal clear” with the public that the “numbers are too high” and he wants to “bring them down”.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick was expected to face an Urgent Question in the Commons on Thursday.

The record levels of net migration are down to a "series of unprecedented world events throughout 2022 and the lifting of restrictions following the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic", the ONS said.

The director of the Centre for International Migration at the ONS said numbers arriving on humanitarian routes increased over the 12-month period.

Jay Lindop said: "The main drivers of the increase were people coming to the UK from non-EU countries for work, study and for humanitarian purposes, including those arriving from Ukraine and Hong Kong. For the first time since using our new methods to measure migration, we have also included asylum seekers in our estimates, with around 1 in 12 non-EU migrants coming via this route.

"There are some signs that the underlying drivers behind these high levels of migration are changing. As lockdown restrictions were lifted in 2021, we saw a sharp increase in students arriving.

"Recent data suggests that those arriving in 2021 are now leaving the country, with the overall share of non-EU immigration for students falling in 2022.

"In contrast, those arriving on humanitarian routes increased over the 12 months. Evidence also suggests immigration has slowed in recent months, potentially demonstrating the temporary nature of these events."

On Tuesday, as part of attempts to attempts to curb net migration, the Government announced that overseas students will be banned from bringing dependants to the UK from January 2024.

The change will not apply to those on postgraduate research programmes.

Mr Sunak said it was the “biggest-ever single measure to tackle legal migration, removing the right for international students to bring dependants, toughening the rules on post-study work, and reviewing maintenance requirements”.

Meanwhile, Labour has unveiled immigration plans under which businesses would be stopped from easing staff shortages by hiring cheaper overseas workers.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir Starmer told the Commons: “The Prime Minister stood on three Tory manifestos, each one promised to reduce immigration. Each promise broken.

“This mess on immigration reveals a Tory Party with no ambition for working people and no ambition for Britain, just the same old failed ideas – low wages and high tax.”

Mr Sunak questioned Labour’s contribution, saying: “There are absolutely no ideas … absolutely no semblance that there would be any control. Why? Because he believes in an open-door migration policy.”