Net migration drops to 685,000 after hitting record levels, as even more arrived in UK last year than previously thought

23 May 2024, 10:24

Net immigration dropped last year
Net immigration dropped last year. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Net migration dropped 10% last year after hitting record levels over the previous 12 months, official figures show.

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Net migration - the number of people coming into the UK minus the people leaving the country - stood at 685,000 in the year to December 2023, according to a provisional estimate by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The same figure for the previous year was 764,000, which has been revised upwards from a previous estimate of 745,000 now that more complete data is available.

The drop in migration from 2022 to 2023, announced a day after the general election was called for July 4, may prove to be a boost for the Conservatives, who have pledged to cut migration.

Some 1.22 million people are estimated to have arrived in the UK in the year ending December 2023, while 532,000 are likely to have left.

Read more: Rishi Sunak admits no Rwanda flights will take off before General Election

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Ben Kentish weighs up migration plans of Conservatives and Labour

That compares with the 1.26 million who arrived in the UK in the year to December 2022 and the 493,000 who left.

The rise in the number of people emigrating from the UK long-term has been driven largely by increased emigration from non-EU nationals, particularly among those who initially arrived on a study visa, the ONS said.

Non-EU immigration for work rose to 423,000 in the year to December 2023, from 277,000 a year earlier, replacing study as the main reason for long-term migration.

More than four in ten people moving to the UK for work last year came from India or Nigeria, most of them in the health and social care sector.

The number of people arriving from outside of the EU as dependants of those on long-term work visas was higher last year than the the number of main applicants, at 219,000 and 204,000 respectively.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Picture: Alamy

Migration is set to be a key battleground in the election campaign.The Rwanda Bill has become a flagship feature of Rishi Sunak’s government. This policy and talk of limits on legal migration show the government is committed to taking a hard line on the issue.

Labour has said it is also looking to reduce the reliance on overseas workers and backs a points-based immigration system which it says "would work for workers and businesses".

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and deputy leader Angela Rayner
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and deputy leader Angela Rayner. Picture: Alamy

Sir Keir has been treading carefully on the issue of small boats, saying crossings needed to be reduced "materially" without setting a target.

He said a Labour government would expand counter-terror powers to cover people-smuggling gangs and create a new Border Security Command to co-ordinate efforts to halt the crossings.

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