Net migration to the UK has climbed to a record half a million, driven by a series of “unprecedented world events” including the war in Ukraine and the end of lockdown restrictions, new figures suggest.
Around 504,000 more people are estimated to have moved to the UK than left in the 12 months to June 2022, up sharply from 173,000 in the year to June 2021.
Other factors contributing to the jump include the resettlement of Afghan refugees, the new visa route for British nationals from Hong Kong, and students arriving from outside the European Union.
The estimates have been compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which described the period covered by the latest figures as “unique”.
Downing Street insisted Rishi Sunak was “fully committed” to bringing overall immigration levels down.
Because there are a number of reasons behind the rise, many of them unconnected, it is too early to say whether the trend will continue.
A total of 1.1 million people are likely to have migrated to the UK in the year to June, the majority – 704,000 – from outside the EU.
By contrast, 560,000 people are estimated to have migrated from the UK in the same period, almost half of them – 275,000 – going back to the EU.
The imbalance means that, while far more non-EU nationals are likely to have arrived in the UK than left during these 12 months, the reverse is true for EU nationals, with more leaving than arriving.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “There are some unprecedented and unique circumstances which are having a significant impact on these statistics.
“The Prime Minister has said he wants net migration to reduce, he has not put a specific time frame on that.”
Jay Lindop, ONS deputy director of the centre for international migration, said: “A series of world events have impacted international migration patterns in the 12 months to June 2022. Taken together these were unprecedented.
“These include the end of lockdown restrictions in the UK, the first full period following transition from the EU, the war in Ukraine, the resettlement of Afghans and the new visa route for Hong Kong British nationals, which have all contributed to the record levels of long-term immigration we have seen.
“Migration from non-EU countries, specifically students, is driving this rise. With the lifting of travel restrictions in 2021, more students arrived in the UK after studying remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“However, there has also been a large increase in the number of people migrating for a range of other reasons. This includes people arriving for humanitarian protection, such as those coming from Ukraine, as well as for family reasons.
“The many factors independent of each other contributing to migration at this time mean it is too early to say whether this picture will be sustained.”
People arriving on study visas accounted for the largest proportion (39%) of long-term immigration of non-EU nationals in the year to June, 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 want to travel to the UK but studied remotely in the early stages of the pandemic.
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 ONS said.
The second-largest proportion of non-EU immigration in the year to June was by people on “other” visas, at 276,000 people, 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 those from Ukraine.
The number of non-EU nationals arriving for work reasons in the 12 months to June is estimated at 151,000, up year-on-year from 92,000.
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said the latest figures should not be seen as a “new normal” and it would be “rash to take major policy decisions based only on these numbers”.
She continued: “These unusually high levels of net migration result from a unique set of circumstances following the war in Ukraine and the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.
“Some of the most important contributors to non-EU immigration are not expected to continue indefinitely, such as the arrival of Ukrainians, and emigration is expected to rise in coming years.”
As such, the UK may see “artificially high estimates” of net migration over the next couple of years before emigration catches up, with most non-EU citizens on work and study visas eventually leaving the country, though not for two to three years.
The ONS figures do not include the estimated 35,000 people who arrived in the country by small boats in the year to June, the majority of who have applied for asylum.
This is because further work needs to be done by the ONS to ensure these arrivals are are correctly reflected in the long-term migration data.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “We have welcomed hundreds of thousands of people to Britain this year following the devastating war in Ukraine, the evacuation from Afghanistan and the despicable crack down on democratic rights in Hong Kong.
“Therefore, it is understandable that we have seen a record number of people coming to our country thanks to the generosity of the British people.
“But the public rightly expect us to control our borders and we remain committed to reducing migration over time in line with our manifesto commitment.”
Sir John Hayes, an ally of Ms Braverman, described the figures as “shocking”, “appalling” and “out of keeping with the Government’s pledge to cut migration”.
The Tory former minister told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “The key thing here is to understand that migration has consequences.
“If you bring in more people than the populations of Lincoln, Norwich and Newcastle put together in a given year, you’re going to put immense pressure on housing, on infrastructure, on services.
“Now, it’s true that immigration brings economic benefits, but it also brings economic costs.”