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Net migration rises due to Ukraine and BNO schemes, as well as post-COVID rebound in international students

24 Nov 2022

New data released today by the Office for National Statistics show that net migration to the UK reached 504,000 in the year ending June 2022, levels not previously recorded by the ONS, due to a unique combination of people fleeing Ukraine and Hong Kong and a post-Covid rebound in international student numbers, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today. 

The new data show immigration of 1.1 million in the year to June 2022, with emigration of 560,000, leading to net migration of 504,000. The rise in immigration and net migration was driven by non-EU citizens. Net migration of EU citizens under the post-Brexit immigration regime remained negative at -51,000. 

A recent analysis by the Migration Observatory, Why has non-EU Migration to the UK Risen, highlighted that “bespoke humanitarian schemes” for Ukrainians and Hong Kong BNOs accounted for 45% of the increase in visas granted to non-EU citizens between 2019 and the year ending June 2022. A rise in international student numbers accounted for 39% of the increase over the same period. Today’s ONS statistics paint a similar picture.  

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “All the forecasts suggested that migration would fall as a result of the post-Brexit immigration scheme, which greatly restricted the options for EU citizens to move to the UK. And indeed, EU net migration remains negative. But non-EU migration has risen, primarily not because of the policies designed to replace EU free movement. The humanitarian routes for Ukraine and Hong Kong and a rebound in international students have played the largest role in boosting immigration levels.  

“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. We cannot assume they represent a ‘new normal’, and it would be rash to take major policy decisions based only on these numbers. Some of the most important contributors to non-EU immigration are not expected to continue indefinitely, such as the arrival of Ukrainians.” 

Alongside students and the humanitarian routes, high demand for doctors and nurses in the NHS has driven increases in the number of skilled work visas issued.  

The unusually high net migration estimate of 504,000 results not just from the uptick in immigration, but also the fact that emigration remains relatively low. Most non-EU citizens on work and study visas eventually leave the UK, but not for 2-3 years. As a result, the UK may well see artificially high estimates of net migration over the next couple of years, before emigration catches up. For example, the UK issued 465,000 sponsored study visas to non-EU citizens in the year ending June 2022, but based on past trends between 80% and 90% of those people would be expected to leave the UK over the coming decade. More details on these figures are available in the Migration Observatory’s recent analysis of non-EU migration trends 

Other data released today by the Home Office show that small boat arrivals reached 44,500 in the year ending September 2022, with nearly half (20,300) arriving in July-September. In the year ending September 2022, 72,000 asylum claims were submitted. The backlog in asylum processing has now reached 143,000 with 68% of people now waiting more than 6 months for their initial claim to be assessed. 

Sumption added: “The growing backlog means that people in the asylum system are stuck in limbo for long periods. There is evidence that these waiting times hurt the long-term integration prospects of those who receive refugee status. Meanwhile, people with pending asylum claims cannot work and so need to be provided with accommodation so they are not made homeless. The result is that the backlog also puts pressure on the availability of accommodation and pushes up the cost of the asylum system.” 


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