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Net migration to UK hits record high of 606,000 as Brexit scales EU movement back

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Net migration to the UK has hit a record high of 606,000, new figures released this morning reveal.

The significant surge in legal migration for 2022 has hit the highest level on record, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data.

It follows weeks of speculation over the numbers with prime minister Rishi Sunak seeking to distance himself from what will be seen as a heavy blow by the right wing of the Tory party.

A total of 1.2m people migrated to the UK in 2022, while 557,000 are estimated to have migrated outwards in the same period, as overseas students from 2021 start to leave.

The 606k figure – the difference between people moving to the UK and those leaving – is up from 488,000 in 2021, driven by non-EU arrivals for work, study and humanitarian reasons.

Non-EU migration increase

Figures include high levels of arrivals from Ukraine following Russian leader Putin’s invasion and from Hong Kong after China’s anti-democratic crackdown in the island region.

While the post-Brexit years have marked a shift away from EU migration to people coming from outside the European trading bloc, including from countries in east Africa and south Asia.

Jay Lindop, ONS director of the centre for international migration, said a series of “unprecedented world events throughout 2022”, together with the lifting of restrictions following the Covid-19 pandemic, led to record levels of international immigration to the UK.

He added: “The main drivers of the increase were people coming from non-EU countries for work, study and for humanitarian purposes, including from Ukraine and Hong Kong.”

Worker shortages in key agricultural, construction and hospitality sectors have been plugged in some cases by hiring arrivals from overseas, in a bid to stem demand and limit upward inflation pressures.

The PM has announced plans to stop international students bringing family members to the UK with them in a bid to placate hardline Brexiteer Conservatives.

He told the BBC this weekend he “wants to bring migration down… the [legal migration] numbers are too high”, while Labour insist the government have “lost control” of the issue.

Former PM David Cameron pledged to cut migration to tens of thousands, which was repeated in the 2015 and 2017 Conservative manifestos in 2015 and 2017.

The target was never met and was scrapped in the 2019 election campaign – but now home secretary Suella Braverman said last year that meeting it would be the “ultimate aspiration”.

But Sunak’s focus has been on illegal migration, including his leadership pledge to ‘stop the boats’ and his work with under-fire home secretary Suella Braverman on the flagship Illegal Migration Bill, which would see arrivals through non-legal routes sent home or to Rwanda.

While the Labour Party has pledged, if elected into government, it would scrap rules that allow overseas workers coming to the UK to be paid 20 per cent less than the going rate.

It came as the party announced a plan to reform the points based system, pledging to “put skills and fairness at the heart of a properly managed and controlled immigration system”.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “The Conservatives chaotic approach to immigration has led to endemic skills shortages and a 95% increase in work visas.

“Some occupations spend decades on the shortage list without any proper skills plan in place.

“The Conservatives immigration system includes a built-in incentive in the shortage occupation list to reduce wages and recruit from overseas rather than training and paying the going rate here in the UK. That’s not good enough.”

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