Net migration to the UK rose to a record high of 606,000 in 2022, increasing pressure on Rishi Sunak’s government, but the country’s statistics agency said the influx was now leveling off.
Thursday’s record numbers fell short of some previous predictions that netted immigration it reached 700,000 last year. However, they contrasted with the promise of the 2019 conservative manifesto, reaffirmed by Sunak, that “the overall numbers will decline.”
“The numbers are too high, it’s as simple as that,” the prime minister told ITV after the 606,000 figure was released. “And I want to take them down.”
The Office for National Statistics said the total, which compares with a net immigration figure of 488,000 in 2021, was driven by people who came to the UK from outside the EU, including from Ukraine and Hong Kong. But he said net migration to the UK was now leveling off, with immigration slowing and emigration rising.
The statistics agency also noted that the mix of migrants had changed over the year, with proportionally fewer new arrivals coming as students and more coming via humanitarian routes.
The ONS estimated gross immigration from outside the EU at around 925,000, an increase of 287,000 from 2021. Students and their dependents accounted for more than a third of that total, with 235,000 arriving on work visas and around than 250,000 as asylum seekers or through humanitarian routes.
Emigration outside the EU also increased, largely due to students returning home, leaving net immigration from outside the EU at 660,000.
EU immigration, which accounted for more than half of arrivals in 2018, totaled just 151,000 in 2022. With 202,000 EU citizens leaving the UK during the year, net EU immigration is now negative .
Jay Lindop, director of the ONS Center for International Migration, said “unprecedented global events” combined with the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions had led to record levels of immigration.
But he added that the evidence suggested that immigration had slowed, “which could demonstrate the temporary nature of these events.”
Immigration remains highly politically charged, with the government under attack from the right and Labor arguing they have lost control of the issue.
Sunak said measures announced this week to prevent foreign students from bringing family members with them would reduce levels over time, urging the public to “be sure” that he had control over the issue.
But current inflows remain well above the government’s 2010 promise to reduce net immigration to “tens of thousands.”
The ONS also revised its net immigration figure for the year ending June 2022, which now stands at 606,000 after including asylum seekers, up from the previous estimate of 504,000.
Conservative MPs have issued warnings to the government to redouble its efforts to reduce the number.
“Where the hell are you going to house these people? We build about 180,000 new homes a year,” former Conservative minister Sir John Hayes, who chairs the so-called Common Sense group of right-wing MPs, told the BBC ahead of the release of the figures.
Labor lashed out at the government over the “extraordinary numbers”, noting that the number of work visas issued has doubled since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, said the government “had no control over immigration” and “utterly failed to address skills shortages, especially in health and social care, or to get people back to work.” work after Covid”.
However, Jonathan Portes, a professor at King’s College London, said the figures showed that net immigration was likely to decline in 2023.
“The narrative that immigration is spiraling or out of control is simply false,” he said. He added that the figures showed the continuing impact of Brexit, with “a complete redirection of UK migration flows out of the EU and into the rest of the world.”
Marley Morris, deputy director for migration at IPPR think tank, said ministers should avoid “knock-off reactions” to the figures.
He said there were clear signs that net immigration was stabilizing and that there was “strong public support for the main drivers of net migration, including NHS recruitment, international students and humanitarian routes.”