Rishi Sunak is facing a backlash from Conservative MPs after new figures showed net migration to the UK has risen to a record high, with 504,000 more people arriving in the country than departing last year.
“Unprecedented” global events, including the lifting of Covid lockdowns, the war in Ukraine and the crackdown by Chinese security forces in Hong Kong, sent immigration numbers soaring.
At 1.1 million, the total number of arrivals in the 12 months to June was the highest since the statistics were first collected in 1964 and far outweighed the 560,000 departures, although for the first time since 1991 more EU citizens left the UK than arrived .
Even after accounting for humanitarian programs for Ukrainians and Afghans, the numbers added weight to the observation that Brexit has not reduced overall migration, as many Leave campaign supporters hoped.
Instead, the figures suggest that the outcome of the exit has changed migration patterns to the UK, with departing Europeans being replaced by nationals from countries like India, Nigeria and China, which dominate the work and study visa table.
More than 20 Conservative MPs are believed to have signed a letter to Mr Sunak calling for action to bring down migration numbers overall.
Organized by Sir John Hayes – the leader of the traditionalist Tories’ Common Sense Group and a close ally of Home Secretary Suella Braverman – the letter called on ministers to tighten their grip on the work and study visa system and to crack down on unauthorized Channel crossings with the boat.
Interior Ministry figures showed an 87 percent increase to 381,459 in the number of work visas issued over a 12-month period, while study visas rose 38 percent to 597,827. Both numbers were more than double what they were before Brexit.
Sir John said the influx of migrants is putting pressure on the UK’s environment, housing and infrastructure, and “pushing out” local workers from jobs and education.
“The Home Secretary has been very open and honest and straightforward about the need for robust measures to take control of our borders in relation to small boats,” he said pleasemynews. “There is a similar task to regain control of Visa, which I think is currently out of control.”
The level of immigration went against a promise in the Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto – endorsed by Mr Sunak since arriving at 10 Downing Street – to bring the total down, Hayes said.
Reacting to the ONS figures on Thursday, Ms Braverman said the record number of people arriving in Britain was “thanks to the generosity of the British people” towards Ukrainians, Afghans and Hong Kong BNO (British National Overseas) passport holders.
“The public rightly expects us to control our borders and we remain committed to reducing migration over time, in line with our manifesto,” said the home secretary, who stated her personal goal at the Conservatives’ conference in October be it reducing net migration below 100,000.
“My priority remains combating the rise in dangerous and illegal crossings and stopping abuse of our system.”
Downing Street said Mr Sunak remains committed to reducing net migration but has not set a “specific timeframe” for achieving the target. The PM’s official spokesman blamed “some unprecedented and unique circumstances” for the record numbers.
ONS Deputy Director Jay Lindop said a key driver in the figures was the migration of students from non-EU countries who are no longer forced to work remotely by Covid lockdowns.
An estimated 277,000 arrived in the UK last year, up from 143,000 the year before.
The figures also showed a growing backlog of asylum applications being processed, with 117,400 awaiting an initial decision, of whom nearly 80,000 have waited more than six months.
Labour’s shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the statistics show “serious problems with the Conservatives’ mismanagement of the immigration and asylum systems where they have failed utterly to get a handle on them”.
Ministers have failed to crack down on the criminal gangs organizing canal crossings and have managed to process the claims of just 2 per cent of people arriving in small boats over the past year, she said.
“Work visas have also increased significantly due to the severe skills shortages in the UK – but Conservatives are not taking serious action to address skills shortages here at home,” said Ms Cooper.
Maria Stephens, campaigns director for charity Refugee Action, said the “rapid delays in processing asylum claims are destroying lives”.