UK net migration unlikely to fall below pre-Brexit levels - and will remain higher until 2030, experts say

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Non-EU work and long-term study emigres will keep net migration around pre-Brexit levels from 2030 onwards, experts have said.

Net migration is unlikely to drop below the levels seen pre-Brexit, experts have said, despite Vote Leave promises this would go down to the tens of thousands.

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.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

That comes after the Leave campaign made the power to control our borders and bring down immigration a key focus during the Brexit vote. Michael Gove, one of the key Brexiteers, promised that leaving the EU would mean we would get net migration to below 100,000.

However, this figure has now risen to 606,000 - according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. At the time of Brexit in January 2020, net migration was at 219,000 - while at the time of the referendum it was at 306,000.

And the report authors believe that it is likely net migration will drop below pre-Brexit levels going forward past 2030. They said: “Before Brexit, projections suggested that migration levels would fall due to the post-Brexit policy regime’s restrictions on EU migration. 

Net migration unlikely to fall to pre-Brexit levels until 2030. Credit: Mark Hall/Adobe/GettyNet migration unlikely to fall to pre-Brexit levels until 2030. Credit: Mark Hall/Adobe/Getty
Net migration unlikely to fall to pre-Brexit levels until 2030. Credit: Mark Hall/Adobe/Getty | Mark Hall/Adobe/Getty

“While the future outlook is necessarily uncertain, our model suggests that the current post-Brexit immigration system will not necessarily lead to lower net migration than the figures of roughly 250,000 to 350,000 seen in the mid-2010s. The largest single reason for this is that non-EU work migration has increased.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Non-EU long-term work migration increased from 99,000 to 235,000 between 2018 and 2022, while non-EU long-term students increased by 240,000 over the same period, according to the ONS estimates

Analysis: Why will net migration stay high?

According to the Migration Observatory, there are three main factors in UK migration - humanitarian and refugee settlement, visa grants and long-term immigration - NationalWorld Health Editor David George writes. The latter includes anyone who moves to the UK for at least 12 months, with visa grants going out to anyone who comes to live and work here.

Currently levels of net migration are higher than they were in 2019, prior to the UK leaving the EU. In fact, figures are up by more than half a million, with a 561,000 increase in non-EU immigration last year. International students accounted for 43% of this figure, with a further 24% coming from what the Migration Observatory calls "skilled workers". These workers are those who arrive in the UK with a profession, and ply their trade in this country.

Health and care was the main industry driving this growth, say researchers. In fact, from Q4 2019 to Q4 2022, work migrants saw an almost continual increase, whereas students, refugees and asylum seekers saw a greater drop-off.

Researchers said: "The largest driver of skilled worker grants has been high demand in the health and care sector. From the year ending June 2019 to the year ending December 2022, the number of main applicants for skilled work visas in the health and social care sector increased by just under 60,000.

"Provisional Home Office statistics suggest that around 57,000 visas were granted to care workers in 2022, indicating high take-up of this new visa option. Another factor behind higher numbers of health and care visas issued is that the NHS has increased staffing, particularly among nurses.

"The number of full-time equivalent nurses working in NHS hospital and community health settings, for example, increased by more than 30,000 from July 2019 to July 2022."

The war in Ukraine and people arriving to the UK from Hong Kong under resettlement schemes are said to have contributed to the latest ONS estimate of 606,000 people - a record. The figures prompted unease among some Cabinet ministers and Tory MPs, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calling the figure “too high” earlier this year.

The latest forecast, based on certain assumptions about migration trends as well as ONS and Home Office data, suggests that current high levels of immigration over the last two years may lead to higher emigration between 2023 and 2025.

That would largely be driven by international students, while smaller numbers of people coming from Ukraine and Hong Kong is also likely to have an impact. The report says that by 2030, these forms of emigration will have decreased which should take net migration down to pre Brexit levels.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Professor of economics at LSE Alan Manning, who co-authored the new report, said: “Nobody can predict exactly what will happen to net migration, but we can set out some realistic scenarios. And most plausible scenarios involve net migration falling in the coming years.

“But many different factors affect the outlook, including what share of international students switch to long-term work visas, whether work visa numbers continue to increase as sharply as they have done in the past few years, and what happens to asylum applications.

“The unpredictability means it’s very hard for policymakers to guarantee that they will deliver a specific level of net migration.”

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, said that health and care visas were helping to keep the figures high. “One of the striking findings is that if current trends continue, work visas look set to be the largest factor shaping overall net migration by some distance. Work-related migration has mostly been driven by health and care,” she said.

“So future migration patterns will be particularly sensitive to developments in that sector,” she said.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.