'Do or die on migration': Rishi facing Tory backlash after figures show immigration soared to 745,000 new arrivals

23 November 2023, 11:05 | Updated: 23 November 2023, 13:09

One of Rishi Sunak's key pledges is to 'stop the boats'
One of Rishi Sunak's key pledges is to 'stop the boats'. Picture: Alamy/ONS

By Asher McShane

The net migration figure to the UK for 2022 has been revised upwards to nearly three quarters of a million people, according to the latest official statistics.

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The ONS revised its figure for the year to December from 606,000 to 745,000 - an increase of 139,000 people.

The figures for the year to June 2023 hit 672,000 - up from 607,000 in the previous 12 months, but slightly down on the revised December record, caused by a drop in humanitarian arrivals, including from Ukraine and Hong Kong.

A total of 1.18 million people are estimated to have arrived in the UK in the year to June 2023 while 508,000 are likely to have left - a difference of 672,000.

Sir Keir Starmer told LBC that the net migration figures are “shockingly high”

Sir Keir Starmer told LBC that the net migration figures are “shockingly high”
Sir Keir Starmer told LBC that the net migration figures are “shockingly high”. Picture: LBC

Speaking from Tilbury Freeport the Labour leader said: “it’s a failure of immigration, a failure of asylum, and a failure on the economy”

“These are shocking figures, a failure on all three fronts”

In a statement the New Conservatives, who are lead by right-wing backbenchers Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger, warned it was 'do or die' time. 

“High rates of immigration depress wages, reduce investment in skills and technology, put unsustainable pressure on housing and public services, and threaten community cohesion. “The word ‘existential’ has been used a lot in recent days but this really is ‘do or die’ for our party,” the statement said.

Former Cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke tweeted: "This level of legal immigration is unsustainable both economically and socially. There is no public mandate for it, it is beyond our public services' capacity to support and it undercuts UK productivity and wages by substituting cheaper foreign labour.

"We need an urgent change of approach. The earnings threshold for visa applications needs to be raised significantly. The shortage occupations list needs to be radically descoped. As set out by the Chancellor, we need to ensure more Britons are supported into work."

Levels of net migration have varied sharply in recent years.

The figure stood at an estimated 93,000 in the year to December 2020, when restrictions introduced during the Covid pandemic limited travel and movement.

It then rose to 466,000 in the year to December 2021, before jumping to a record 745,000 in the year to December 2022.

The most recent estimate of 672,000, for the 12 months to June 2023, is up from 607,000 in the 12 months to June 2022.

The rise in non-EU immigration in the year ending June 2023 was mainly driven by migrants coming for work, the ONS said.

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This was up to 33% from 23% in year ending June 2022 and can be largely attributed to people arriving on health and care visas, the statistics body said.

People arriving on humanitarian routes fell from 19% to 9% over the same period, the ONS said.

The majority of these were Ukrainians and British Nationals (Overseas).

An estimated 80,000 people arrived long-term on these visas, of which 47,000 were BN(O) and 33,000 were Ukrainians.

Those arriving long-term on Ukraine visa schemes peaked in the year ending December 2022 at 109,000, the ONS said.

The Office for National Statistics said patterns and behaviours of migrants have been changing post-pandemic, with more students arriving, and staying longer.

The ONS's Jay Lindop said: "Net migration to the UK has been running at record levels, driven by a rise in people coming for work, increasing numbers of students and a series of world events.

"Before the pandemic, migration was relatively stable but patterns and behaviours have been shifting considerably since then.

"More recently, we're not only seeing more students arrive, but we can also see they're staying for longer. More dependants of people with work and study visas have arrived too, and immigration is now being driven by non-EU arrivals.

"The latest numbers are higher than 12 months ago but are down slightly on our updated figures for year ending December 2022. It is too early to say if this is the start of a new downward trend."

Responding to the net migration figures, Home Secretary James Cleverly said: "We do need to reduce our overall numbers by eliminating the abuse and exploitation of our visa system by both companies and individuals.

"We have taken tough action to reduce migration, by tackling the substantial rise in the number of students bringing dependants to the UK - a change that will have a tangible impact on net migration. Around 154,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending June 2023.

"And we are working across government on further measures to prevent exploitation and manipulation of our visa system, including clamping down on those that take advantage of the flexibility of the immigration system.

"We will announce details of those measures in due course."

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