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UK net migration surges to record high

Net migration to the is nearly double what it was in 2015, the year before the Brexit referendum

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during the London Defence Conference, at King’s College on May 23, 2023 in London, England © Getty Images / Ben Stansall – WPA Pool/Getty Images

Net migration to the United Kingdom hit a record high of 606,000 in 2022, official estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have shown. It is a 20% increase on the previous high of 504,000 in the previous year, with the inflated figures coming soon after a pledge from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to curb legal migration numbers after he took office in October.

Per statistics published on Thursday by the ONS, the influx of legal migrants is partly driven by the British government’s visa scheme for Ukrainian refugees, as well as people migrating to Britain for reasons of employment or education. Net migration is defined by calculating the number of people arriving into a country minus those who leave.

“The main drivers of the increase were people coming to the UK from non-EU countries for work, study and humanitarian purposes, including those arriving from Ukraine and Hong Kong,” Jay Lindop, Director of the Center for International Migration at the Office for National Statistics, said, according to Reuters on Thursday.

The UK governmental body added that 2022 was a “unique year” for migration because of “world events” including Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

Read more UK reveals migrant plans

Legal migration has been a central topic in the British political ecosystem for several years. It was a primary issue in the UK’s 2016 Brexit referendum in which a majority voted to leave the European Union and take control of Britain’s own borders, as many voters said at the time. Net migration to the UK in 2015 was 329,000 – just above half of the 2022 tally.

The total number of long-term immigrants into the UK was estimated at 1.2 million last year, the ONS said. 925,000 of these are non-EU nationals. Emigration out of the UK was around 557,000.

UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman said last year that she hoped immigration figures could be reduced to “tens of thousands,” while Rishi Sunak had signaled that he would stick to former PM Boris Johnson’s pledge to reduce the numbers to around 245,000. However, speaking on the topic this week Sunak failed to give a specific target ahead of an expected UK general election next year, in which migration to the UK is expected to be a key topic.

Home Office figures released on Thursday also show a record backlog of asylum-seekers’ cases in the UK, with 172,758 waiting for adjudication as of the end of March of this year – an increase of 57% from the year before.


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