UK Prime Minister Expresses Concern As Record High Migration Figures Released
In response to the recently published data revealing a new record high in migration figures, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has expressed his concern over the levels, stating that they are “too high.” The Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed that immigration resulted in a net population increase of 606,000 in 2022.
The ONS highlighted several contributing factors to the surge in migration, including an influx of individuals from outside the European Union arriving on student and work visas. Additionally, immigration schemes from Ukraine and Hong Kong played a significant role in the increase.
While the Prime Minister emphasized that migration was not out of control, the figures present a political challenge for Sunak and his Conservative-led government, which has promised to reduce the numbers for over a decade. Former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to bring net migration below 100,000, and the party’s 2019 manifesto aimed to decrease the rate, albeit without setting a specific target.
The ONS data for 2022 reveals that approximately 1.2 million people arrived in the UK, while 557,000 individuals left during the same period. This resulted in a net migration figure of 606,000—an increase of 164,000 compared to the previous year.
Speaking to ITV’s This Morning, the Prime Minister acknowledged the high numbers, stating, “Numbers are too high, it’s as simple as that. And I want to bring them down.” When asked if immigration was out of control, Sunak responded that he believed the numbers were simply too high.
Sunak pointed to recently implemented measures, such as tightening visa rules for overseas students, which he considered significant and expected to gradually reduce migration levels. From next year, only those on post-graduate research programs will be allowed to bring their families to the UK, as part of efforts to lower net migration.
The ONS report highlighted that nearly 40% of the 925,000 non-EU nationals who arrived in the UK in 2022 did so on student visas. However, the majority of students typically leave the country upon completing their courses. Concerns have been raised by the Russell Group, representing many top universities, as they fear these measures may impact their ability to attract international students and the crucial income they bring to the British higher education system.
The data revealed that the second-largest driver of the increase in migration was the number of work-related arrivals from outside the EU, which nearly doubled within a year from 137,000 to 235,000.
Notably, net migration continues to rise despite the UK’s exit from the European Union, with more EU nationals leaving the country (202,000) than arriving (151,000), according to the ONS.
The ONS attributed the third-largest driver of the increase in migration to resettlement schemes triggered by “unprecedented world events.” The number of non-EU nationals arriving in the UK through humanitarian routes increased from 9% to 19% in 2022. Among them, 114,000 Ukrainians and 52,000 Hong Kong citizens arrived via special visa schemes following the imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong by China.
During a session in the House of Commons, Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, remarked that the support provided to Ukrainians and Hong Kongers had significantly affected the figures. Cooper criticized the government for its failure to address skills shortages, particularly in the health and social care sectors, as well as its inability to reintegrate individuals into the workforce after the pandemic.
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick stated that the focus should be on training British workers to fill job vacancies, expressing concerns about the strain high net migration places on public services, housing supply, and the country’s ability to integrate newcomers. He also called for universities to prioritize teaching rather than inadvertently creating avenues for immigration status.
As the debate surrounding migration figures unfolds, the government faces the challenge of balancing the nation’s economic needs, public sentiment, and commitments to reducing net migration in the coming years.