June 11, 2023

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Record net arrivals highlight the UK’s post-Brexit immigration dilemma

  • High paid by non-EU workers, Ukraine/Hong Kong visa schemes
  • BM Sunak: The numbers are very high and they have to come down
  • It is difficult to reduce the number of expatriates at a time of acute labor shortage
  • The statistics agency points to some signs of slowing migration

Data showed, today, Thursday, that net immigration to Britain reached a record high of 606,000 people last year, drawing new promises from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to reduce the number of arrivals, but stressing the difficulty of doing so at a very acute time. labor shortage.

The Office for National Statistics said the increase was driven by people from outside the European Union coming to Britain to work or study and by people from Ukraine and Hong Kong under special visa schemes.

“The numbers are very high, it’s that simple,” Sunak told ITV after the data was released.

He said he wanted to cut net immigration, pointing to reforms announced this week that would revoke the right of some international students to bring family members to the UK.

Sunak also promised more measures but did not set a specific net migration target.

High levels of legal immigration have long dominated political discourse in Britain, and the issue was a major driver of voting in the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union.

For more than a decade, successive Conservative-led governments have promised to cut immigration – once they target a net figure below 100,000.

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But ONS data published on Thursday showed 606,000 people came to Britain in the year to December 2022.

The Office for National Statistics said there was evidence that the rate of migration had slowed in recent months.

Previous data covering the year ending June 2022 showed a net figure of 504,000, revised upwards in the latest edition, also to 606,000.

Taking back control after Brexit?

Post-Brexit immigration policy is proving to be a difficult balancing act for Sunak ahead of elections expected next year as it is likely to be a sway for many people.

On the one hand, he faces pressure from some voters, particularly those loyal to his party, to limit immigration – a legacy of the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union. Many of those who voted to leave cited the rise in immigration and the pressure they said it placed on public services.

On the other hand, Britain is facing labor shortages in key sectors, due in part to the mass exodus of EU citizens due to Brexit. Tight labor market conditions are a factor in the country’s persistently high inflation.

On the same day, the government announced the tightening of rules for family members of students, and also said it was easing visa rules for fishermen due to a shortage of labor.

The opposition Labor Party said separate government data published on Thursday showing a 119% increase in the number of work visas issued – around 300,000 in the year to March 2023 – evidence that government policy is in disarray.

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“Ministers have completely failed to address skills shortages, particularly in health and social care, or to get people back to work post-Covid,” said Yvette Cooper, head of labor immigration policy.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said the combination of the new measures and the easing of temporary inflows from Ukraine and Hong Kong would see net migration drop and return to pre-pandemic levels.

He added that being outside the EU meant he could better control immigration. Net immigration to Britain in 2015, the year before the Brexit referendum, was 329,000.

The data estimated total immigration in 2022 at about 1.16 million, offset by the emigration of 557,000. The Office for National Statistics said that 925,000 of those who arrived in 2022 are from outside the European Union, 151,000 are from the European Union, and 88,000 are British.

It estimated that in 2022 under special visa schemes there would be 114,000 long-term arrivals from Ukraine and 52,000 from Hong Kong.

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar and Movija M; Editing by William James

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Sachin Ravikumar

Thomson Reuters

Sachin Ravikumar is a correspondent for Reuters in London covering general news from across the UK. Over the course of nine years at Reuters, he helped manage several breaking news teams, reporting on business and general news from India, and serving as desk editor.