Net migration to the UK has hit a record half a million, driven by a series of ‘unprecedented global events’ including the war in Ukraine and the end of lockdown restrictions, new figures suggest.
Around 504,000 more people are estimated to have moved to the UK than left in the 12 months to June 2022, up sharply from 173,000 in the year to June. June 2021.
Other factors contributing to the jump include the resettlement of Afghan refugees, the new visa route for British nationals from Hong Kong and students arriving from outside the European Union.
The estimates were compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which described the period covered by the latest figures as “unique”.
Downing Street has insisted Rishi Sunak is “fully committed” to lowering overall immigration levels.
Given that there are a number of reasons behind this rise, many of which are unrelated, it is too early to tell if the trend will continue.
A total of 1.1 million people are likely to have emigrated to the UK in the year to June, the majority – 704,000 – from outside the EU.
By contrast, an estimated 560,000 people migrated from the UK over the same period, with almost half – 275,000 – returning to the EU.
The imbalance means that while many more third-country nationals are likely to have arrived in the UK than left during those 12 months, the reverse is true for EU nationals. EU, with more departures than arrivals.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “There are unprecedented and unique circumstances which have a significant impact on these statistics.
“The prime minister has said he wants a reduction in net migration, he hasn’t set a specific deadline for that.”
Jay Lindop, Deputy Director of the ONS Center for International Migration, said: “A series of global events have impacted international migration patterns in the 12 months to June 2022. Taken together, they were unprecedented.
“These include the end of lockdown restrictions in the UK, the first full period after the EU transition, the war in Ukraine, the resettlement of Afghans and the new visa route for British nationals from Hong Kong, all of whom have contributed to the record levels of long-term immigration we have seen.
“Migration from non-EU countries, especially students, is driving this increase. With the lifting of travel restrictions in 2021, more students have arrived in the UK after studying remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“However, there has also been a sharp increase in the number of people migrating for a range of other reasons. This includes people arriving for humanitarian protection, such as those coming from Ukraine, as well as for family reasons.
“The many independent factors contributing to migration at present mean that it is too early to say whether this image will be maintained.”
People arriving on study visas accounted for the largest proportion (39%) of long-term third-country national immigration in the year ending June, at 277,000.
That’s up from 143,000 in the previous 12 months.
This may reflect ‘piled up demand’ from international students who want to travel to the UK but studied remotely at the start of the pandemic.
The increase could also be influenced by the new graduate visa route, where students can apply to work in the UK for up to three years after completing their studies, the ONS said.
The second highest proportion of non-EU immigration in the year to June was of people with ‘other’ visas, at 276,000, compared to 91,000 in the year to June 2021 .
This includes all those who have arrived in the UK on visas classified as family, protection, settlement or visit – and those who have come for humanitarian reasons, such as those from Ukraine.
The number of third-country nationals arriving for work reasons in the 12 months to June is estimated at 151,000, down from 92,000 year-on-year.
Madeleine Sumption, director of the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, said the latest figures should not be seen as a “new normal” and that it would be “unwise to make major political decisions on the based solely on these figures”.
She continued: “These unusually high levels of net migration result from a unique set of circumstances following the war in Ukraine and the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.
“Some of the biggest contributors to non-EU immigration are not expected to continue indefinitely, such as the arrival of Ukrainians, and emigration is expected to increase in coming years.”
As such, the UK could see ‘artificially high estimates’ of net migration over the next two years before emigration catches up, with most non-EU citizens on work visas and studies eventually leaving the country, but not for two or three years.
The ONS figures do not include the estimated 35,000 people who arrived in the country by small boats in the year to June, the majority of whom have sought asylum.
Indeed, the ONS must continue its work to ensure that these arrivals are correctly reflected in long-term migration data.