The Office for National Statistics ‘(ONS’) has today published its annual migration figures which show that net migration (the difference between immigration and emigration during the same period) is at its highest level ever recorded, at 504,000 for the year ending June 2022.
In the past year, an estimated 1.1 million people have migrated to the UK, the majority of whom were non-EU nationals (704,000). The number of EU migrants makes up 21% of the total, a figure largely in-line with pre-Brexit figures. The numbers do however point to a change in migration patterns, with more EU nationals leaving the UK than entering.
It had been widely argued that Brexit would result in a drop in net migration. Michael Gove, a prominent figure of the Vote Leave campaign, was previously reported as saying that leaving the UK would allow the UK to get net migration under 100,000. However, the reality of the post-Brexit landscape is somewhat different for a myriad of reasons.
There is no doubt that Brexit prompted a change in the UK immigration policy, with the introduction of new visa routes. The most commonly used work route, the Skilled Worker visa, allows employers to sponsor the visas of a wider cohort of individuals than its predecessor Tier 2 (General) route did before the end of free movement. But the UK has also introduced new visa routes unrelated to Brexit, including the Ukrainian resettlement schemes and the British National (Overseas) visa route for those arriving from Hong Kong.
Furthermore, the rise in net migration is largely driven by an increase in the number of international students coming to the UK. An estimated 277,000 individuals arrived on student visas in the past year, an increase of 143,000 from the year ending June 2021. This could be an indication of migration flows righting themselves after the travel disruption caused by the covid-19 pandemic, but there are other possible factors at play, including the reintroduction of a post-study work visa in July 2021.
The headline net migration figure does not show the full picture nor highlight the positive impact that migration has on the UK economy, not only in terms of tax receipts of foreign workers but also from the economic benefit of international students and overall boost in UK productivity. Whilst some will be alarmed by the rise in net migration, it is clear that there is a unique set of circumstances at play in this year’s figures, driven by conflict, the post-Brexit transition and recovery from the covid-19 pandemic. It is therefore too early to say whether net migration will remain at these levels going forward.