Net migration to UK hits 672,000 as family visas rise

Figures are latest blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's vow to cut immigration

Students staying for longer and family members accompanying them has contributed to rising net migration to Britain. Alamy
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Net migration to Britain rose by 672,000 in the year to the end of June, in the latest blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's promise to reduce immigration, official figures released on Thursday show.

That compares with 607,000 in the previous 12 months, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). However, it is lower than the estimated figure of 745,000 for the year to last December, a UK record.

The ONS said the rise was driven by three factors – more non-EU migrants coming to the UK for work; students staying for longer; plus an increase in the number of family members accompanying them. The government intends clamping down on relatives joining people already in the UK, though this has yet to be reflected in the figures.

Study remained the biggest contributor to non-EU immigration, accounting for 39 per cent, largely unchanged compared to the previous period, the ONS said.

The next largest contributor was migrants coming for work – having risen to 33 per cent, from 23 per cent in the year ending June 2022, and largely attributed to people on health and care visas.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said the new numbers do not constitute a significant year-on-year increase and the government remains "completely committed to reducing levels of legal migration", including by tackling the rise in the number of students bringing dependants to the UK.

"Around 154,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending June 2023," Mr Cleverly said.

The figure was 86,000 in the year ending in June 2022.

He added: "We are working across government on further measures to prevent exploitation and manipulation of our visa system, including clamping down on those that take advantage of the flexibility of the immigration system.

"We will announce details of those measures in due course."

Arrivals of people via humanitarian routes have fallen from 19 per cent to 9 per cent, the ONS said, with most of these made up of Ukrainians and British overseas citizens arriving from Hong Kong.

The figures were released hours after a man and a woman drowned when a small boat carrying about 60 undocumented people heading for Britain sank shortly after leaving the French coast.

Jay Lindop, deputy director of Migration Statistics at ONS, said: “Net migration to the UK has been running at record levels, driven by a rise in people coming for work, increasing numbers of students and a series of world events.

“Before the pandemic, migration was relatively stable but patterns and behaviours have been shifting considerably since then.

"More recently, we’re not only seeing more students arrive, but we can also see they’re staying for longer. More dependants of people with work and study visas have arrived too, and immigration is now being driven by non-EU arrivals.

“The latest numbers are higher than 12 months ago but are down slightly on our updated figures for year ending December 2022. It is too early to say if this is the start of a new downward trend.”

According to British authorities, more than 27,200 people have crossed the Channel in small boats so far this year, with the record number of 45,000 last year.

Mr Sunak has made "stopping the boats" one of his five priorities.

In a strongly-worded statement following the release of the data, the right-wing New Conservative group of MPs demanded action from Mr Sunak and Mr Cleverly, calling it a "do or die" issue for the party.

In a strongly-worded statement following the release of the data, Tory MPs on the right of the party urged Mr Sunak and Mr Cleverly to “act now” and introduce a comprehensive package of measures to bring down net migration, with some saying it was "do or die" for the party at the next election.

“Each of us made a promise to the electorate. We don’t believe that such promises can be ignored," they said.

Richard Hughes, chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility, said net migration is expected to fall over the next few years.

The OBR predicts it will decline to pre-pandemic levels of 245,000 by 2027.

"Some of this increase in migration, we think, is temporary," he told the BBC.

"The government has also taken measures like removing visa rights for the dependents of students and other visa changes, which we think will help also bring down the path of migration, but it settles at around 245,000 by the end of the forecast.”

French authorities say boats crossing the Channel are increasingly overloaded, with the average number of 53 passengers nearly double that of two years ago.

The two who died in the Channel on Wednesday were both thought to be about 30 but it is not yet known where they were from.

A third person was rescued from the sea and flown to hospital, while others on the boat were brought back to land, some suffering from hypothermia, rescuers said.

The latest deaths came almost two years to the day since 27 people died in one of the worst Channel migrant disasters.

Updated: November 23, 2023, 1:18 PM