UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman attends the weekly government cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street on May 23, 2023 in London, England.
Leon Neal | Getty Images News | Getty Images
LONDON — Net migration to the UK hit a record high of 606,000 in 2022, despite government promises to cut that figure.
Figures released by the country’s national statistics office on Thursday showed third-country nationals accounted for 925,000 long-term arrivals, while 151,000 were from the European Union.
Reducing net migration was a pledge in the ruling Conservative party’s election manifesto in 2019, when the figure was 226,000. Previous figures, released in November, showed net migration was 504,000 during the year until June.
The government has pointed out that many recent arrivals are refugees from Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong. The proportion of people arriving through humanitarian routes has increased from 9% to 19% in 2022, compared to the previous year.
Legal migration is a controversial issue within the Conservative Party. It comes as the government seeks to boost tepid economic growth and ease sealing in the labor market, posing challenges for businesses and driving up wages at a time of skyrocketing inflation.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he wants net migration below 500,000, around where it was when he took office last fall.
However, he clashed with his tougher Home Secretary Suella Braverman over some proposed measures to bring the numbers down. Sunak also pointed out that migrant workers are essential for sectors such as the National Health Service.
In a speech earlier this month, Braverman said: ‘It is not xenophobic to say that mass and rapid migration is unsustainable in terms of housing supply, services and community relations’ . She also said Britons should fill jobs that are in short supply, such as lorry drivers, butchers and fruit pickers.
On Tuesday, Braverman’s department announced restrictions on student visas, the biggest source of migration to the UK. Only postgraduate research students will be able to bring family members with them into the country under the new rules.
The Home Office also said it would ban people ‘from using a student visa as a back door to work in the UK’ by preventing them from changing visa types until they have completed their studies and reviewing their proof of funds checks.
The government says that under its post-Brexit points-based immigration system it controls its borders and fills gaps in the labor market.
From 2025, even tourists to the UK from the EU and overseas countries including the US will need an e-visa to enter, with the government admitting it does not currently have accurate figures on arrivals and departures.
“Unfit for use”
However, workers in many sectors say they are struggling with recruitment problems which have been exacerbated by Brexit.
Raj Sehgal, chief executive of Norfolk-based nursing home group Armscare, told CNBC that job vacancies in the sector had reached record levels over the past year with more than 165,000 vacancies, combined with a growing need for services and post-Covid burnout.
It is difficult to attract young domestic workers to rural areas where there are many care homes, he said, and Brexit and the weaker pound have reduced the UK’s attractiveness to workers of the EU.
“The whole process of hiring a migrant worker is totally unsuitable, being detrimental to employers looking to grow and grow the economy,” Sehgal said.
“It’s complicated and costly…for the worker, it requires a long and complex process to find a sponsor, and for employers, there’s the burden of costs, such as an immigration skills surcharge which acts as more than a tax on employment.”
CNBC has asked the Home Office to comment on the new figures.