Immigration UK: seven charts explaining net migration as annual UK figures hit record high

The UK recorded a net migration figure of 606,000 in the year ending December 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The UK recorded a 'record' net migration figure of 606,000 in 2022, according to figures published today (25 May) by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In the year ending December 2022, immigration was estimated at around 1.2 million and emigration was 557,000. Net migration is the difference between immigration (people who moved into the UK) and emigration (people who moved out of the UK).

The new figures released today show record levels of net migration compared to previous published estimates. The ONS had previously said net migration stood at a then-record 506,000 for the year ending June 2022. However, it has now revised how it calculates immigration, most notably to include asylum seekers, and has today revised the estimate for the year ending June 2022 to 606,000, matching the estimate for the year ending December 2022. In the year ending September 2022, net migration stood at 637,000, which is the new record.

The ONS found that most people arriving to the UK in 2022 were non-EU nationals (925,000), followed by EU (151,000) and British (88,000). It said people coming from non-EU countries for work, study, and for humanitarian purposes, including people from Ukraine and Hong Kong contributed to the high levels of immigration in the last 18 months.

Net migration had been expected to hit between 650,000 and 997,000 this year – far greater than the tens of thousands annual target Suella Braverman told a Tory party conference fringe meeting she would like to aim for last October. 


Earlier this month the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, announced a fresh push to curb immigration to the UK. She told Conservative members there is “no good reason” the country cannot train its own lorry drivers, butchers and fruit pickers.

During a speech at the National Conservatism Conference in London on Monday (15 May) Braverman said that training UK workers to pick fruit or drive HGVs could help tackle immigration. She said: “There is no good reason why we can’t train up enough HGV drivers, butchers or fruit pickers. Brexit enables us to build a high-skilled, high wage economy that is less dependent on low-skilled foreign labour. That was our 2019 manifesto pledge and what we must deliver. We mustn’t forget how to do things for ourselves.” 

The Home Secretary, who has previously been criticised for using inflammatory language in relation to migration, said it is "not racist" to want to control borders.

The UK is reliant upon migrants to fill a labour shortage which includes low skilled jobs such as fruit picking to highly skilled professions within the NHS.

Here we reveal how migration has changed under the Conservative government, what types of jobs migrant workers do,  and what proportion of health and social care employees were born outside the UK.


How has net migration changed?

Immigration has remained an ongoing issue for consecutive governments with the net figure fluctuating since the Tories came to power in 2010. Despite a significant drop during the Covid pandemic, the latest figures for the 12 months to December 2022 shows a surge in net migration.

The most recent figures published by the ONS show 1.2 million people migrated into the UK in the year ending December 2022 and 557,000 people emigrated, leaving a net migration of 606,000 people. This is an increase of 387,000 compared with pre-pandemic levels in 2019 when net migration was recorded at 219,000.


The ONS has released new revised figures following its amended methodology going back to the year ending December 2018. Our graph includes figures published prior to this for historical context, however the methodology for earlier years differed and did not for instance include asylum seekers.

Is migration affecting the UK’s unemployment rate?

Braverman’s speech earlier this month is being seen as a warning to Cabinet colleagues against relaxing immigration visa rules in a bid to fill positions for some hard to fill jobs. ONS figures show the UK’s unemployment rate remains low. However a low unemployment rate can result in employers struggling to fill vacancies, meaning more migration would be necessary to tackle a labour shortage.

Excluding an increase during the Covid pandemic, the latest unemployment rate figures show the proportion of people out of work has largely fallen since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. The most recent figures for December 2022 to February 2023 shows the UK’s unemployment rate was 3.8%. A marginal uptick on October to December 2022’s figures when unemployment was at 3.7% but far lower than the 8.5% recorded in 2011. 


Additional figures from the ONS show vacancy numbers have dropped. In the three months to March 2023 there were 1.1 million vacancies, a decrease of 47,000 from October to December 2022.

What jobs do migrants do?

Data published by the ONS as part of the 2021 census gives an insight into the type of work non-UK born workers do. It found ‘elementary occupations’, which are low skilled, normally low pay jobs, had the largest proportion of non-UK born workforce with 31.2%.

Under this type of occupation, packers, bottlers, canners and fillers were found to have the greatest proportion of migrant workers with almost two thirds (60.7%) being born outside the UK, followed by warehouse operatives at 38.8% and cleaners and domestics at 37.3%. The chart below shows which jobs grouped under elementary occupations had the greatest proportion of non-UK born workers. 


What proportion of migrants work in the health service?

Professions within the health sector also have a high percentage of non-UK born workers, according to the ONS. Nearly half (47.5%) of specialist medical practitioners such as oncologists and cardiologists in England and Wales were found to be born outside the UK, while 40.6% of general medical practitioners (such as GPs) were foreign born. The chart below shows which healthcare professions have the greatest proportion of non-UK born workers. 


Adult social care also has a large proportion of migrant workers. The ONS reports that one in four (25.3%) care workers and home carers were not born in the UK. The chart below shows which adult social care professions have the greatest proportion of foreign born workers. 


'They’ve been in power for 13 years'

Sir Keir Starmer criticised Braverman’s recent speech saying that she should “get back to the office”.Speaking on LBC at the time, the Labour leader said: “Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, is today making a speech about what she thinks ought to happen on immigration. She is the Home Secretary.

“They’ve been in power for 13 years. This is like (Mikel) Arteta… doing a speech this afternoon on what Arsenal ought to do.”