All the numbers behind the UK's new net migration record

Rishi Sunak has been forced to admit the number of people migrating legally to the UK is too high

In 2010 prime ministerial hopeful David Cameron said net migration should be limited to "tens of thousands."

Thirteen years later the figure has been revealed to be more than 600,000.

He wanted to bring it to below 200,000, while his successor Theresa May made a commitment to cut it to less than 100,000 a year. Boris Johnson said in his 2019 manifesto he wanted to reduce net migration to fewer than 226,000.

Rishi Sunak recently abandoned that pledge and the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the government had dramatically failed to meet it.

There was net migration of 606,000 in the 12 months to December 2022 - higher than ever before.

But Downing Street is refusing to apologise, saying it is "important to understand what sits beneath some of those numbers".

Why are the numbers so high?

Number 10 suggested events in Ukraine and Hong Kong were among the key drivers in the UK's high immigration figures.

Around 114,000 Ukrainians resettled in the UK in the 12 months to December 2022 and 52,000 British nationals arrived from Hong Kong.

The ONS said a “series of unprecedented world events throughout 2022 and the lifting of restrictions following the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic” were behind the record figure.

And asylum seekers have been included in the figures for the first time, with around 1 in 12 non-EU migrants coming via this route.

Another driver is overseas students and their families, with hundreds of thousands arriving via that route.

How has net migration changed over the years?

Net migration in 2007 was 237,000. It fell dramatically amid the 2008 financial crash to 163,000.

By 2018 it had grew to 333,000, then fell to 219,000 a year later in 2019.

Net migration collapsed to 89,000 in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic but by 2021 the number had rocketed to 488,000.

The latest figures show net migration of 606,000 in 2022, almost three times the figure a decade previously in 2013, when net migration was 212,000.

Who is coming and who is leaving?

Around 1.2 million migrated to the UK in the 12 months to December 2022 and 557,000 people left.

Most people arriving to the UK in 2022 were non-EU nationals (925,000), followed by EU (151,000) and British (88,000).

Of those leaving, non-EU nationals accounted for 263,000 (47%), EU nationals made up 202,000 (36%), and British nationals 92,000 (17%).

Around 361,000 people arrived on study-related visas, an increase from 301,000 in 2021. Th ONS says the increase is mainly attributed to dependants, with 41,000 coming in 2021 compared to to 85,000 in 2022.

Asylum seekers backlog hits new record

The backlog of asylum cases in the UK has hit a new record high, Home Office figures show.

A total of 172,758 people were waiting for an initial decision on an asylum application in the UK at the end of March 2023, up 57% from 109, 735 at the end of March 2022 and the highest figure since current records began in 2010.

The number of people waiting more than six months for an initial decision stood at 128,812 at the end of March, up 76% year on year from 73,207 and another record high.

The rise in asylum applications waiting for an initial decision is “due to more cases entering the asylum system than receiving initial decisions”, the Home Office said.

There were 19,706 initial decisions made on asylum applications in the UK in 2022/23, up 35% on 14,586 in 2021/22 but below the 20,766 in the pre-pandemic calendar year of 2019.

There were 75,492 asylum applications in the UK in the year to March 2023, relating to 91,047 people, Home Office figures show.

This is the highest total for any 12-month period since the year to March 2003, when it stood at 80,736 applications relating to 99,338 people.

Who is seeking asylum in the UK?

Albania was the most common nationality applying for asylum in the UK in the year to March 2023, with 13,714 applications by Albanian nationals, 9,487 of which came from arrivals on boats crossing the English Channel.

The number of Albanian small boat arrivals peaked during the summer of 2022 and by early 2023 had dropped below levels seen in 2021.

Afghans were the second most common nationality applying for asylum in 2022/23, with 9,606 applications, more than double the number in the previous 12 months (4,118).

The Home Office said this rise was “likely due to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan”.

Some 90% of people arriving in the UK in the year to March 2023 on small boats claimed asylum or were recorded as a dependant on an asylum application, the Home Office said.

Overall, just under half (44%) of total asylum applications in the UK last year were from people who arrived on a small boat.

Some 78% of all small boat asylum applications since 2018 are still awaiting a decision, including 93% of those made in 2022/23.

Just over 1% of small boat arrivals applying for asylum in 2022/23 received an initial decision within the same year.

Mr Sunak says his main priority is "about illegal migration and stopping the boats" after a record 44,000 asylum seekers crossed the English Channel last year.

Visas issued more than double

The combined total of 1,472,162 visas in the year to March 2023 is up 53% from 960,133 in 2021/22 and is the seventh successive record high for a 12-month period since current figures began in 2005.

Labour Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “These extraordinary figures, including doubling the number of work visas since the pandemic, show the Conservatives have no plan and no grip on immigration."

She added: "The Conservatives’ chaotic approach means that work visas are up 119%, net migration is more than twice the level ministers were aiming for, and the asylum backlog is at a record high despite Rishi Sunak promising to clear it this year.”

Some 487,771 work visas were granted, along with 632,006 study visas and 65,642 family visas, plus 5,046 visas for dependants joining or accompanying others, according to Home Office figures.

In addition, 198,358 were issued under the Ukraine visa schemes, 47,227 were granted to British National (Overseas) status holders from Hong Kong, 31,550 were under the EU Settlement Scheme, and 4,562 were under other settlement schemes.

Will the numbers come down?

Rishi Sunak said the "numbers are too high, it's as simple as that. And I want to bring them down".

He recently announced a policy banning students from bringing their dependent family members with them, a move he insisted will bring numbers down.

The PM wants to bring down the number of children and spouses of students arriving in the UK after the number jumped from 16,000 in 2019 to 136,000 in 2022.

Mr Sunak told ITV the policy is "significant" and will bring levels down over time.

He said the change for students was the “biggest-ever single measure to tackle legal migration, removing the right for international students to bring dependents, toughening the rules on post-study work, and reviewing maintenance requirements”.

The changes will be brought in for students starting January 2024.

Director of the ONS's Centre for International Migration Jay Lindop said there are "some signs that the underlying drivers behind these high levels of migration are changing".

“Recent data suggests that those arriving in [on student visas] 2021 are now leaving the country, with the overall share of non-EU immigration for students falling in 2022.

“In contrast, those arriving on humanitarian routes increased over the 12 months. Evidence also suggests immigration has slowed in recent months, potentially demonstrating the temporary nature of these events.”