Fresh figures are expected to show net migration reached record levels last year as Labour accused the Government of making a mess on immigration and the Prime Minister claimed the Opposition have “absolutely no ideas” on the subject.
The Office for National Statistics will publish data on Thursday (May 25) for the year ending December 2022. Analysis by the Centre for Policy Studies forecasts net migration could have hit between 700,000 and 997,000 in that period.
Those figures are substantially higher than the 226,000 level when the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto promised that “overall numbers will come down” following the introduction of post-Brexit border controls. Rishi Sunak has promised action to bring down net migration, telling reporters on a recent trip to Japan that he wanted to be “crystal clear” with the public that the “numbers are too high” and he wants to “bring them down”.
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The latest available figures showed levels are already at a record high. Total net migration – the difference between the number of people moving to the UK and the number leaving the country – in the 12 months to June 2022 stood at an estimated 504,000.
This was up sharply from 173,000 in the year to June 2021. 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.
On Tuesday, as part of attempts to attempts to curb net migration, the Government announced that overseas students will be banned from bringing dependants to the UK from January 2024.
The change will not apply to those on postgraduate research programmes. Sunak said it was the “biggest-ever single measure to tackle legal migration, removing the right for international students to bring dependants, toughening the rules on post-study work, and reviewing maintenance requirements”.
Meanwhile, Labour has unveiled immigration plans under which businesses would be stopped from easing staff shortages by hiring cheaper overseas workers. During Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir Starmer told the Commons: “The Prime Minister stood on three Tory manifestos, each one promised to reduce immigration. Each promise broken.
“This mess on immigration reveals a Tory Party with no ambition for working people and no ambition for Britain, just the same old failed ideas – low wages and high tax.”
Sunak questioned Labour’s contribution, saying: “There are absolutely no ideas … absolutely no semblance that there would be any control. Why? Because he believes in an open-door migration policy.”