Just days after Rishi Sunak said legal migration to the UK is "too high" and is "considering a range of options" to bring down the number of arrivals, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has confirmed that the latest available figures show migration levels are already at a record high.
“What I would say is we’re considering a range of options to help tackle numbers of legal migration and to bring those numbers down - and we’ll talk more about that in the future,” the prime minister said.
“So I don’t want to put a precise number on it. What I can tell you is the numbers are high and we do want to bring them down.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has said that the prime minister has lost control: “The Conservatives’ chaotic approach means that work visas are up 119 per cent, net migration is more than twice the level ministers were aiming for, and the asylum backlog is at a record high despite Sunak promising to clear it this year.”
But exactly how many people are migrating to the UK and what’s causing it?
How many people migrate to the UK each year?
Migration figures of people coming into the UK are released every June and the figure Mr Sunak was originally commenting on is almost a year old.
Now, the ONS has stated that 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.
Further figures, due to be released on May 25, will go on to cover the 12 months to December 2022 and are likely to reflect the ongoing impact of these factors.
Nonetheless, it’s estimated that a total of 1.1 million people were estimated to have migrated to the UK in the year to June 2022, the majority of which – 704,000 – are 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.
The rise was driven by a series of “unprecedented world events”, according to the ONS, including 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”, while Mr Sunak had also previously said that helping out migrants fleeing war was something the country should be “proud of”.
Pushed on what would be an acceptable level of migration, the prime minister said “it depends on how the economy’s doing at any particular time and the circumstances we’re facing”.