UK migration levels: What do the latest available numbers show?

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

New estimates of net migration to the UK are due to be published on May 25, but the latest available figures show levels are already at a record high.

Total net migration in the 12 months to June 2022 – the difference between the number of people moving to the UK and the number leaving the country – stood at an estimated 504,000, up sharply from 173,000 in the year to June 2021.

The rise was driven by a series of “unprecedented world events”, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which compiled the estimates.

These include the war in Ukraine, the end of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, the resettlement of Afghan refugees, the new visa route for British nationals from Hong Kong, and students arriving from outside the European Union.

The ONS described this collection of factors as “unique”.

POLITICS Immigration
POLITICS Immigration (PA Graphics)

The figures to be released on May 25 will cover the 12 months to December 2022 and are likely to reflect the ongoing impact of these factors.

A total of 1.1 million people were estimated to have migrated to the UK in the year to June 2022, the majority – 704,000 – from outside the EU.

By contrast, 560,000 people were estimated to have migrated from the UK in the same period, almost half of them – 275,000 – going back to the EU.

The imbalance meant that, while far more non-EU nationals were likely to have arrived in the UK than left during these 12 months, the reverse was true for EU nationals, with more leaving than arriving.

Recent levels of migration cannot be compared directly with figures from before 2020, as the ONS has changed and improved the methods it uses to produce its estimates.

The latest figures also do not include the estimated 35,000 people who arrived in the UK by small boats in the 12 months to June 2022, the majority of who applied for asylum.

This is because further work needs to be done by the ONS to ensure these arrivals are correctly reflected in the long-term migration data.

Ukrainian soldiers fire a cannon near Bakhmut
Ukrainian soldiers fire a cannon near Bakhmut The rise was driven by a series of ‘unprecedented world events’, according to the ONS, including the war in Ukraine (AP)

People arriving on study visas accounted for the largest proportion (39%) of long-term immigration of non-EU nationals in the year to June 2022, at 277,000 people.

This is up from 143,000 in the previous 12 months.

This may reflect “built-up demand” from international students who wanted to travel to the UK but studied remotely in the early stages of the pandemic, the ONS said.

The increase might 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 second-largest proportion of non-EU immigration in the year to June 2022 was by people on “other” visas, at 276,000, up from 91,000 in the year to June 2021.

This includes all those who arrived in the UK on visas classified as family, protection, settlement or visit – and those who have come for humanitarian reasons, such as from Ukraine.

The number of non-EU nationals arriving for work reasons in the 12 months to June 2022 was estimated at 151,000, up year-on-year from 92,000.

(PA Graphics)

Separate figures released by the Home Office in February 2023 showed that nearly one-and-a-half million visas were issued in the year to December 2022 to people coming to the UK for work, study or family reasons, or through one of the Government’s settlement schemes.

Some 423,013 work visas were granted, along with 626,551 study visas and 48,107 family visas, plus 5,055 visas for dependants joining or accompanying others.

In addition, 210,906 were issued under the Ukraine visa schemes, 53,836 were granted to British National (Overseas) status holders from Hong Kong, 34,338 were under the EU Settlement Scheme, and 3,903 were under other settlement schemes.

The combined total of 1,405,709 visas in 2022 is up 64% from 858,869 in 2021 and is the sixth successive record high for a 12-month period since current figures began in 2005.