This was one of the main promises of Brexit: the divorce from the European Union was going to allow “take back control” on immigration to the United Kingdom, assured the supporters of “Leave”, during the referendum campaign of 2016. And yet, seven years later, the net migration – the difference between immigration and emigration over the twelve months of the year – almost doubled. While it stood at 335,000 in 2016, it reached the historic level of 606,000 in 2022, with 118,000 net arrivals more than in 2021. Figures published Thursday, May 25 by the British National Statistics Office (ONS). This record poses a serious problem for the conservative government of Rishi Sunak, unable to reconcile its anti-migrant discourse with a complex economic and social reality.
The humanitarian reception of Ukrainians fleeing Russian aggression (around 114,000) and Hong Kongers refusing China’s authoritarian takeover (around 52,000) drove the figures up. Just like the issuance of student and work visas. The ONS suggests that this clear upward trend may be slowing, as the number of humanitarian arrivals has fallen in recent months. Net migration figures “are too high”admitted Rishi Sunak on Thursday on the ITV channel, adding that he wanted “bring them down”without however indicating by how much.
And for good reason: successive Conservative governments have been missing their migration targets for thirteen years. In 2011, David Cameron promised to bring back net migration “a few tens of thousands a year”, when annual arrivals already exceeded 200,000. He reiterated this commitment in the Tory campaign platform for the 2015 general election. Ditto for Theresa May in the 2017 early poll, when net arrivals exceeded 300,000 per year. Boris Johnson was more cautious ahead of the 2019 parliamentary elections, abandoning quantified targets, contenting himself with promising “fewer low-skilled migrants” and fewer net arrivals than in 2018.
Structural shortage of labor
Since the beginning of 2021, the “hard” Brexit chosen by London has however put an end to the freedom of movement of Europeans and the government has introduced a visa system allowing it to control the number of arrivals. This chosen migration policy, with an assumed desire to attract qualified people with high salaries (work visas are mostly issued subject to means testing) has resulted in a negative net migration for Europeans in 2022 ( – 51,000) but by a rebound in net non-European migration (662,000 arrivals in 2022). Work visas issued to non-Europeans and their families reached record levels (235,000), as did student visas (276,000), mainly granted to Indians and Chinese.
You have 52.43% of this article left to read. The following is for subscribers only.