Around 606,000 more people are estimated to have moved to the UK than left in the 12 months to December, according to new data from the Office for National Statistics.

It is a record high for net migration, up from 488,000 in 2021, and significantly embarrassing for the Conservatives, who have long made controlling the number of people coming to the UK a plank of their time in office. 

It was also one of the key pledges during the Brexit referendum, which Rishi Sunak and his Home Secretary, Suella Braverman both campaigned for. 

Before the 2016 referendum, average net migration was between 200,000 and 250,000 a year.

The ONS said last year's spike was likely fuelled by a “series of unprecedented world events throughout 2022 and the lifting of restrictions following the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic."

The figures include Ukrainians fleeing Putin's invasion of Ukraine. 

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Jay Lindop, the director of the Centre for International Migration at the ONS said: “The main drivers of the increase were people coming to the UK from non-EU countries for work, study and for humanitarian purposes, including those arriving from Ukraine and Hong Kong.

"For the first time since using our new methods to measure migration, we have also included asylum seekers in our estimates, with around 1 in 12 non-EU migrants coming via this route.

“There are some signs that the underlying drivers behind these high levels of migration are changing. As lockdown restrictions were lifted in 2021, we saw a sharp increase in students arriving.

“Recent data suggests that those arriving in 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.”

Rishi Sunak said the net migration figures were “too high” but denied they were out of control.


Speaking to ITV’s This Morning, the Prime Minister said: “We’ve got to be sensitive to the needs of the NHS, the economy, but fundamentally the numbers are too high – I’m bringing them down.”


He added: “This week we announced the new measures, and I think pretty much the biggest thing that anyone’s ever announced to bring the levels of migration down.

“And it’s a new policy which limits the amount of family members that people who are studying here can bring with them when they come and study here.

“And what we’ve seen over the last few years is that number of dependants has just absolutely spiralled, almost 150,000 dependants of people who are studying here coming. We’re saying from now on, that’s not going to be allowed.

“There’s a few other things we’re doing as well, but that’s going make a big difference because I want to get the numbers down.

“People have heard me talking a lot about illegal migration and stopping the boats. This matters as well.”

Asked whether immigration was out of control, Mr Sunak said: “Well, no, I think the numbers are just too high.”

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Immigration looks set to be a key issue at the next general election, with Mr Sunak already making tackling small boats crossing the Channel one of his key pledges. 

Labour's Yvette Cooper, said the Tories had "no plan and no grip on immigration."

She said: "Net migration should come down and we expect it to do so. Support we have rightly given to Ukrainians and Hong Kongers has unusually affected the figures this year.

"But that can’t disguise the fact that the Conservative's chaotic approach means that work visas are up 119 per cent, 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."

Responding to the figures, the SNP's Home Affairs spokesperson Alison Thewliss said the political bunfight over immigration was damaging. 

She said: "The Westminster obsession with net migration figures, masks the fact the UK government is failing to attract the talent we need in key sectors to boost our economy and NHS - showing why Scotland needs the full powers of independence and control over migration.

"Damaging Tory and Labour Party Brexit and hostile environment policies have driven talent away - and caused staffing shortages that have harmed our NHS, businesses and public services, leaving people in Scotland worse off.

"The SNP is the only party offering a real alternative. It's essential that Scotland escapes the damage of Brexit and Westminster control with independence, so we can finally deliver a tailored migration system that makes us wealthier and healthier by meeting the needs of Scotland's economy, NHS and communities."