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Net migration to UK hits record high of 504,000

Net migration to the UK rose to a record high of more than half a million people in the year to June 2022, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics on Thursday.

The surge in long-term arrivals to the UK was driven by a post-pandemic rebound in international study and by inflows of Ukrainian and Afghan refugees and Hong Kong residents. Overseas recruitment by UK employers — the NHS in particular — also contributed.

“Brexit has not reduced net migration . . . The end of free movement doesn’t mean the UK is closed to migrants; just open in a different way,” said Jonathan Portes, professor at King’s College, London. But he added that future flows were unlikely to remain at current levels, and it was too soon to say whether overall work-related migration would increase.

The ONS labels Thursday’s estimates as provisional and experimental because they are based on new methodology, drawing on administrative data collected by different government departments, and are not directly comparable with previous figures.

But the new data indicate that net migration in the 12 months to June trebled from the previous year — when the pandemic weighed on international travel — to around double its historic average.

Jay Lindop, director of the ONS’ Centre for International Migration, said an “unprecedented” series of world events — including the end of coronavirus lockdowns, the post-Brexit transition, Ukrainian war and resettlement of Afghans and Hong Kong British nationals, had all contributed to “record levels of long-term immigration”. This meant it was too early to say whether higher inward migration would continue.

However, the figures offer the most complete indication to date of how the post-Brexit changes in UK migration policy are affecting the population.

Greg Thwaites, research director at the Resolution Foundation, said the data suggested that migration patterns had “fundamentally shifted post-Brexit”, with more EU citizens now leaving the UK than coming to the country.

Of the 1.1mn people who came to stay in Britain long-term in the year to June 2022, 704,000 were from outside the EU, the ONS said — an increase of 379,000 from the previous year.

By contrast, EU nationals accounted for almost half of the 560,000 who emigrated from the UK long-term in the same period, with 51,000 more EU nationals leaving than arrived.

The overall net migration figure of 504,000 for the year to June compares with official estimates that net migration will eventually settle at just above 200,000 a year.

The ONS also revised down its migration estimates for the previous two years. It now puts net migration for the year to June 2020 at 88,000, a total that grew to 173,000 for the year to June 2021.

The ONS said the fastest growth in visa issuance during the past year was for students. Many of these will leave the UK at the end of their courses, although a recent relaxation in visa rules could allow more to stay and work when they graduate than in previous years.

Schemes for Ukrainians, Afghans and Hong Kong residents accounted for 140,000 of the net migration total. But the figures do not include people who arrived through clandestine irregular routes, such as the estimated 35,000 who came by small boats over the same period.


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