The latest migration statistics for the year to June 2022 come with a health warning from the ONS that its ‘experimental and provisional’ numbers for people movements during a pandemic may not be representative of long-term trends.
On 24 November 2022 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its latest ‘experimental’ statistics on net migration, provisionally reporting that net long-term migration to the UK amounted to 504,000 in the year to June 2022. This compares with estimates for net inward migration of 173,000 in the year to June 2021 and 88,000 in the year to June 2020.
This is equivalent to approximately 0.7% of the UK’s total population and is more than double the net inward migration assumption of 237,000 for the same period used by the ONS in its most recent principal long-term projection for the UK population.
The ONS cautions that the middle of a pandemic may not be representative of long-term trends, given possible pent up demand following restrictions in movements in the previous two years.
The ONS also points out the large jump in the number of non-EU students coming to study in the UK, which boosts immigration numbers in the current year. This should in theory reverse in three to four years’ time when many (but not all) of these students return to their home countries or move elsewhere.
As the chart illustrates, immigration from countries outside the EU in the year to June 2022 comprised 151,000 people coming to work in the UK, 277,000 coming to study, 138,000 under settlement schemes and a further 138,000 coming for other reasons. Around 195,000 people from outside the EU were estimated to have left during the year, giving a net inward migration number for non-EU citizens of 509,000. This compares with 157,000 during the year ended 30 June 2021 and 51,000 in the year before that.
The numbers from outside the EU coming to work has increased from 92,000 in the year to June 2021 and 81,000 in the year to June 2020, offsetting some of the reduction in those coming from the EU to work. Those coming to study have increased by an even greater proportion (from 143,000 and 136,000 in the preceding two years respectively), although this may represent pent-up demand from the pandemic when it was much more difficult for students wishing to start courses in the UK. However, the ONS does comment that the new graduate visa that permits students to stay and work in the UK for up to three years after completing their studies may have encouraged more students to come.
The 138,000 arriving under settlement schemes in the year to June 2022 included an estimated 89,000 Ukrainians who were resettled in the UK under the Ukrainian scheme, approximately 21,000 Afghans under the Afghan resettlement scheme and an estimated 28,000 of the 76,000 Hong Kong residents granted British national overseas (BNO) visas during the year.
The ONS does not give a full breakdown of the other reasons why people are coming to the UK, which principally relate to those joining family, those planning to stay temporarily but for longer than a year, refugees granted asylum during the year and any other reason not classified by the ONS. The numbers exclude 35,000 people that arrived by small boats during the period, although those who are granted asylum will show up in the statistics in subsequent periods.
Inward migration from the EU has gone into reverse since the ending of free movement on 31 December 2020, with net outward migration of 51,000 for the year to June 2022 compared with net inward migration of 12,000 and 26,000 in the two preceding years.
As the chart illustrates, the 88,000 people coming from the EU to work, 71,000 to study and 65,000 coming for other reasons – a total of 224,000 people – were more than offset by the 275,000 who left the UK. Those coming to the UK include Irish citizens who do not need visas to live and work in the UK, in addition those coming from other EU countries who now need to apply for visas before they can come to live and work in the UK.
There was a net inflow of 46,000 UK citizens, as an estimated 136,000 who returned home exceeded the estimate of 90,000 who emigrated from the UK. Of those coming back to the UK, 47,000 came to work, 8,000 to join family and 81,000 for other reasons. This compares with net inflows of 4,000 and 11,000 in the two preceding years.
The ONS provides a range of health warnings for this data set, labelling the numbers as ‘experimental and provisional’, as well as relating to an unusual year for international migration. The numbers were affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the settlement schemes for Ukrainians, Afghans and Hong Kong residents, and by the ending in the preceding year of free movement for EU citizens wishing to come to the UK and for UK citizens to live and work in the EU.
From an economic perspective, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will no doubt be pleased at the additional workers that have arrived in the UK at a time of labour shortages, as well as the success of the university sector in attracting international students, some of whom are likely to stay at the end of their courses to work. Many of those arriving to join family or for other reasons will also join the workforce, further helping to grow economic activity.
With a national workforce that would shrink otherwise and many businesses calling for more freedom to recruit from overseas, the Chancellor may well be hoping for higher levels of migration to continue – even if some of his ministerial colleagues are likely to be less than positive about this possibility.