New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show net migration at unusually high levels in 606,000 in 2022, with some are early indications that the numbers may have started the downwards trend after peaking in the year to September, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today.
Net migration is defined as the number of people immigrating minus the number of people emigrating. Today’s data, which are based on a provisional experimental methodology, suggest that the UK saw long-term immigration of 1.2 million and emigration of 557,000 in 2022.
The ONS figures suggest that net migration peaked at 637,000 in the year ending September 2022, before falling to 606,000 in the year ending December 2022.
The previous figure of 504,000, published last year for the year ending June 2022, has been revised up, also to 606,000, due to changes in the methods ONS uses to calculate the figures. In other words, ONS estimates that net migration did not increase between the two periods (the year ending June and the year ending December). Most of the upwards revision to the previous figure (just over 70,000) resulted from the decision to include asylum seekers in the figures for the first time since new methods were introduced post-pandemic. The rest of the increase resulted from technical methods and data changes.
More than 100% of overall net migration resulted from non-EU migration. Among EU citizens, more people left than arrived, leading to negative net migration of -51,000. Similarly, more UK nationals left than arrived, with net migration of -4,000. The cumulative impact of EU and UK net emigration thus reduced the total net migration figure by 55,000.
The unusually high levels of net migration the UK has experienced result from several different factors that have coincided in a short period of time, including:
- Visa schemes for people leaving Ukraine and Hong Kong. Together, humanitarian visa schemes and resettled refugees made up 19% of non-EU long-term immigration in 2022.
- High employer demand for workers, particularly in the health and care sector; work routes made up 25% of non-EU long-term immigration in 2022.
- Increasing numbers of international students, following a government-sponsored strategy to recruit more foreign students and diversify away from China—as well as the reintroduction of a two-year post-study work visa. Students made up 39% of non-EU long-term immigration.
- An increase in the number of asylum seekers, who have been included in the figures for the first time since new, post-pandemic methods for estimating migration have been in place. Asylum made up 8% of non-EU long-term immigration in 2022.
ONS noted in its statistical release that the numbers have “levelled off” in recent quarters. The main reason that net migration did not increase between the year ending June 2022 and the year ending December is an uptick in emigration, particularly of international students. As the Migration Observatory has previously anticipated, the growing number of international students who have come to the UK since 2021—most of whom are expected to leave within a few years—means that emigration levels are expected to increase between now and 2025. This is already visible in the data for 2022, with 153,000 former students emigrating long term—up from 61,000 in 2021.
In coming years, a decrease in the number of people arriving from Ukraine may also contribute to declines in net migration, although the outlook is of course uncertain and may depend on the course of the war. Ukrainian arrivals have already fallen sharply from a peak of 10,000 arrivals per week in early May 2022 to an average of just over 1,000 per week in March 2023.
However, an acceleration in the number of health and care visas issued could offset the expected declines in net migration in coming years. Visa data, which are also published today and cover the more recent period ending March 2023, show that just under 211,000 health and care visas were issued—up from just under 76,000 in the year ending March 2022.
Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “These unusually high net migration levels do not have a single cause but result from several things happening at once: the war in Ukraine, a boom in international student recruitment and high demand for health and care workers.
“It is very difficult to predict future migration patterns, because surprising developments can disrupt them. For example, a few years ago, none of the forecasts suggested migration would rise above 500,000—not least because they did not anticipate the war in Ukraine. With that caveat, there is no reason to assume that net migration would remain this high indefinitely.”
Sumption added: “The overall effect of Brexit on migration levels is difficult to determine. On one hand, the end of free movement has pushed net migration of EU citizens into negative territory, despite low unemployment and high demand for workers in the UK. On the other hand, certain parts of the post-Brexit regime are likely to have contributed to higher non-EU migration—such as the move to make care workers eligible for long-term work visas and the reintroduction of post-study work rights for international students. Nonetheless, it’s clear from the data that migration to the UK would have been unusually high right now even if the post-Brexit liberalisation of work and study visas had not happened.”
On Tuesday, the government announced plans to restrict international students’ rights to bring family members, if they are studying for taught postgraduate courses. In the year ending March 2023, roughly 149,000 people received visas to come to the UK as partners or children of international students, making up about 10% of all visas issued that year (excluding visit, transit, and frontier visas). Most but not all are expected to be on taught courses that would have been affected by the policies if they had been in place at the time.
Notes for editors:
- Has net migration gone up since the last set of statistics or not? Only due to methods changes, and not due to changes in migration itself. The previous ONS migration statistics publication estimated net migration at 504,000 in the year ending June 2022. This previous figure for the year ending June has now been revised up to 606,000, due to methodological changes including but not limited to the inclusion of asylum seekers in the figures. ONS then found that net migration in the year ending December was also 606,000, i.e. the number had not increased during that period.
- What will happen next? More analysis of the factors driving non-EU immigration and emigration trends and the future outlook for net migration is available in a recently updated Migration Observatory analysis, Why has non-EU migration to the UK risen?
- How accurate are these figures? Today’s data are provisional and use an experimental methodology that ONS is still developing. Previous releases have been revised substantially over the past year. One of the main changes in today’s release is that asylum seekers have been included. This group was not counted in previous post-pandemic releases using the new methodologies. This means that successive revisions have often changed the headline figures by tens of thousands or, in some cases, over 100,000.