Social Justice

Net migration to UK hit record high in 2022, new figures show – with 'strong public support'

The government is "completely committed" to reducing migration, says home secretary James Cleverly. Experts say their policy is failing

Net migration to the UK hit record levels - but has fallen since 2022. Image: UK Government/Flickr

Net migration to the UK hit a record 745,000 in 2022, driven by skilled workers and students, new official statistics have revealed. But despite government rhetoric experts say there is strong support for migration.

A revised estimate from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) means 745,000 more people entered the country than left it in the year to December 2022. 

However, this year has seen lower migration, falling 672,000 in the year to June 2023, with numbers expected to fall further in the coming years. In total, 1.2million people entered the country, with 508,000 emigrating.

Home secretary James Cleverly said the government is “completely committed” to reducing migration, but there is widespread public support for higher migration, in the form it is taking, said Marley Morris of the IPPR think tank.

“Net migration continues to remain high, driven by a surge in skilled workers and students from non-EU countries, but for each of the main components of the recent rise – students, skilled workers, and humanitarian routes – there is strong public support,” said Morris.

“This is especially the case for the health and care visa, where a majority of the public favour more nurses and doctors coming to the UK.”

The ONS said its stats were provisional – and depended on whether they believed migrants would stay for 12 months or longer.

But the figures also came alongside concerns that migrant workers are being exploited, warned Morris.

“There are clear warning signs about the high numbers of care workers being recruited from abroad, with reports of serious exploitation of migrant care workers,” said Morris.

“To address the workforce crisis in social care, what we need is investment in higher pay and conditions in the sector – which is down to the government to provide.” 

Caitlin Boswell, policy and advocacy manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said the figures told the true story of how the government treats migrants.

“The government’s fixation with migration statistics continues, in an ongoing attempt to distract from the real issues such as the cost of living crisis and enormous NHS wait times. These latest statistics show that the government continues to treat migrants as economic commodities,” said Boswell. 

“Even those who are allowed in have to contend with hostile immigration rules such as temporary work visas and threats that the government will limit the number of dependents who can join them. Clearly, this government does not see the irony of stopping those who care for us from bringing in those they love.”

The statistics also showed the government’s asylum policy has failed, said Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director.

“For three years, successive home secretaries have pursued an indefensible policy of simply refusing to process claims made in the UK in the hope that other countries would relieve the UK of this responsibility,” said Valdez-Symonds

“The belated fast-tracking of some claims to try to bring down the backlog is an admission that the policy of refusing to process them has been an abject failure. 

“If James Cleverly wishes to show meaningful leadership, he should begin by scrapping this disastrous policy of not processing asylum claims and the legislation introduced with it and get on with the task of deciding people’s claims, providing safety to people entitled to it, and making the asylum system work rather than shutting it down.”

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