Despite Rishi Sunak’s promise to reduce the number of new arrivals, the UK is expected to experience a significant increase in net migration, reaching approximately 245,000 per year in the next few years.

On Wednesday, The Office for Budget Responsibility revised its forecast and stated that it expects a higher number of net migrants to the UK than previously projected. In November, the forecast was revised to 205,000, which is almost twice the number predicted in March at 129,000.

The recent surge in net migration to the UK is a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on migration in 2020 and 2021. The restrictions put in place by countries to contain the virus made it difficult for people to travel, which significantly affected migration to the UK during that time.

It is worth noting that the number of EU nationals coming to the UK has decreased significantly since Brexit. Therefore, the question arises: what is the driving force behind the current rise in net migration to the UK?

Is Migration Going Up?

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported that net migration for the year ending 2022 was 504,000. The data also show that net migration to the UK was 273,000 in the year ending June 2018, and it decreased to 226,000 in 2019.

Several factors, including the war in Ukraine, the introduction of a new visa system for Hong Kongers, and the Afghan resettlement scheme, contributed to a significant increase in migration to the UK in 2022.

The international migration patterns were affected by several global events in the 12 months leading up to June 2022. In addition, the increase in the number of foreign students coming to study in the UK also contributed to the overall migration figure in 2022.


Net Migration Figures for the UK

YearNet Migration

It is important to note that these figures only account for legal migration and do not include individuals who arrive in the UK illegally.

In 2022, the total number of individuals who migrated to the UK and were not part of any of the three schemes mentioned earlier was 318,000. This estimate assumes that all Hong Kong citizens who were granted a visa decided to take up the offer and move to the UK.

Where are they Coming From?

The increase in immigration in 2022 was largely fueled by non-EU nationals, accounting for around 66% of the total immigration. On the other hand, the immigration of EU nationals remained relatively stable in the past year, representing around 21% of the total immigration.

The Home Office estimated that approximately 89,000 individuals holding visas under the Ukraine Scheme arrived in the UK by the end of June 2022. Additionally, statistics indicate that around 76,000 visas were issued to individuals from Hong Kong as part of the British Nationals Overseas program, but not all of them may have chosen to travel to the UK. Finally, around 21,000 people arrived in the UK as part of the Afghan Resettlement Programme.

The ONS has stated that it is collaborating with the Home Office to address data-related problems and obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the number of people who have immigrated to the UK from Hong Kong.

Why are People Migrating to the UK?

The ONS has reported that, in the year ending June 2022, individuals who arrived in the UK on study visas constituted the greatest proportion (39%) of long-term immigration among non-EU nationals, up from 143,000 in the preceding year. The ONS speculated that the easing of travel restrictions in 2021 may have resulted in a higher number of students arriving in the UK for their studies after having completed their courses remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In June 2022, an estimated 276,000 people arrived in the UK on “other” visas, which accounted for the second-largest proportion of non-EU immigration, making up 39% of the total. This marks a significant increase from the 91,000 arrivals in the previous year ending 2021. The category of “other” visas encompasses various visa types such as visit, family, settlement, protection and other unclassified visas.

Immigration from the EU

The UK implemented a new immigration system in January 2021, which marked the end of free movement between the UK and the European Union (EU) as well as the wider European Economic Area (EEA). The UK implemented these new rules alongside the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and they apply to all individuals who move to the UK for family, study, or work reasons, except Irish citizens.

Following the Brexit referendum, migration from EU countries to the UK has substantially decreased, reaching a peak of 280,000 in 2016. Post-Brexit, migrants from the rest of the world are subject to new rules, but these are comparatively more lenient than those imposed on workers and students from the EU.

In 2021, various authorities granted visas to only 43,000 EU citizens for different purposes like study, family, and work, as reported by the Oxford University Migration Observatory.

Exploring the Factors Behind the Rise in Migration to the UK

Brexit Impact on the UK Workforce?

Experts have stated that the UK is currently facing a shortage of both skilled and unskilled workers. The impact of Brexit, which caused many European labourers to return to the EU, has had a significant effect on the country’s economy, particularly in the hospitality and construction sectors. The building industry has been hit hard by a shortage of workers, resulting in a severe lack of labourers.

Government’s Position on Immigration?

Boris Johnson (Former Prime Minister) campaigned in the 2019 general election on a promise to “get Brexit done”. He and other supporters of Brexit argued that leaving the EU would enable the UK to regain control of its borders and reduce migration, resulting in more jobs and better pay for Uk workers.

The UK Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has expressed her intention to lower net migration to the tens of thousands. However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has recently declined to set a specific numerical target for reducing net migration to the UK.

Government’s Steps to Fix Labour Shortage?

The UK government has revised its shortage occupation list to address the post-Brexit labour shortage in the construction sector by allowing more builders from overseas to work in the country. The updated list will make it easier for overseas bricklayers & carpenters to obtain visas in Britain.

The Migration Advisory Committee examined 26 different occupations in the construction and hospitality sectors to address the labour shortage and recommended adding five of them to the shortage occupations list.

They were:

  • Building and Construction Traders
  • Joiners and Carpenters
  • Roof Tilers, Roofers and Slaters
  • Masons and Bricklayers
  • Plasterers