Immigration: net migration hits record of 745K in 2022, new calculations show - 561K higher post Brexit

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Net migration at the end of 2022 was 561,000 higher compared with when the UK left the EU.

Net migration to the UK in the year to December 2022 was even higher than previously thought, hitting a new record of 745,000 according to the Office for National Statistics.

This means that net migration - which is the difference between people arriving and leaving the UK - was 561,000 higher compared with when the UK left the EU. The Brexit vote was thought to be in main due to people's desire to bring down and control immigration, however it has skyrocketed since then.

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At the time of the EU referendum, net migration was sitting at 321,000. It dropped to 184,00 in December 2019, the month before the UK officially left the EU, however by December 2022 it reached 745,00. This is driven by emigration going down since Brexit, while immigration has spiked - particularly people being granted visas to work.

This 2022 figure was a new record, which was revised up by the ONS from 606,000 due to “unexpected patterns” in the behaviour of migrants. This will put more pressure on Rishi Sunak, who has promised to both bring legal migration down and "stop the boats". Last week, his scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing and resettlement was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court.

When asked by NationalWorld whether this was the kind of Brexit Sunak had campaigned for, his spokesman said: "Most people will understand the impact of a global pandemic, they will understand the impact of a war in Europe - these are challenges not unique to the UK, they are replicated in other parts of the European continent.

The public did wholly support the decision to welcome Ukrainians, BNOs (British Nationals Overseas) and Afghans to this country, but underneath that there are decisions to be taken about particular sectors. It’s right that we’ve taken action to toughen the system."

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The figure for the year to June 2023 is estimated to be lower, at 672,000 - bringing some good news for the Prime Minister. The ONS said it is too early to tell if this is the start of a new downward trend but that the most recent estimates indicate a slowing of immigration coupled with increasing emigration.

Maggie Morgan from the ONS said: “Our most recent migration statistics are always provisional and supported by assumptions around whether we think people will stay 12 months or more.

“We are responding to changes in a highly volatile world and our revisions reflect the unexpected patterns arising from that unpredictability. This will continue to influence our measures of uncertainty.”

The estimates do now include refugees, however it is mainly driven by legal migration. Since Britain left the EU, more Europeans are now leaving the UK than arriving. However the number of non-EU arrivals - often to fill health and social care jobs - is now at 768,000 net.

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Non-EU immigration was up to 33% from 23% in year ending June 2022 and can be largely attributed to people arriving on health and care visas and students. While people arriving on humanitarian routes fell from 19% to 9% over the same period, the ONS said. The majority of these were Ukrainians and British Nationals (Overseas).

The government is looking to crack down on the 96,000 dependents who came with 282,000 students. “It is positive to have students and migrants coming here to study and work that contribute to UK society, that is the focus,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman explained.

“What we do know is that the levels we have now are too high, they place an unsustainable pressure on communities and local councils. That’s why we want to reduce them, and also because we do know that, sadly, there is still some abuse of the system.

“That’s why we are cracking down on dependants of students and that’s why we are looking at other areas where we can make further reductions.”

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Emma Rourke, ONS deputy national statistician, said net migration over the past two years has been “at the highest level we’ve seen”, but that the latest figures indicated “a slowing of immigration coupled with increasing emigration”. She continued: “Before the pandemic, migration was relatively stable, but patterns and behaviours have been shifting considerably since then.

“These changes are reflected in our recent estimates, which are provisional and supported by assumptions informed by past behaviours and what we are learning about societal changes. For instance, we’re not only seeing more students arrive, but they’re staying for longer.

"While historic evidence has shown that over 80% of students typically left within five years, analysis of more recent cohorts is suggesting that more are staying for longer and transitioning onto work visas, such as the new graduate visa.

"We’ve built this change of behaviour into our provisional estimates. More dependants – or family members – of people with work and study visas have arrived too.”

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Experts have previously said net migration is unlikely to drop below the levels seen pre-Brexit. Figures are likely to stay higher than they were when the UK officially left the EU in January 2020 until 2030 at the earliest, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics (LSE) said, although they will fall sharply from the current record high in the latter part of this decade. The three main factors for net migration staying high are humanitarian and refugee settlements, visa grants and long-term immigration, the research found.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the number of people moving to the UK for work shows "the scale of utter Tory failure on immigration, asylum, and the economy".

"These figures are driven by a 54% increase in work visas and a 156% increase in health and social care visas," she explained, "which prove the Conservatives’ abysmal record on skills, training and workforce planning, as they have run our economy into the ground".

"They are still failing to make changes Labour has called for to end the 20 per cent wage discount in the immigration system and to link it to training requirements," Cooper added.

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Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.

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