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Latest statistics show net migration remains historically high but down from newly revised, record estimate for 2022


Office for National Statistics and the Home Office release the latest official figures on migration

Date of Publication:
24 November 2023

Yesterday saw the release of the latest bi-annual migration statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the latest quarterly immigration statistics from the Home Office.

ONSThe latest ONS bulletin covers the year ending (YE) June 2023 and you can read it online here.

The headline finding from the ONS was that net migration in the year ending June 2023 was estimated at +672,000, the second highest estimate ever though down from a newly revised estimate of +745,000 for the YE December 2022 (which is the new record high for ONS net migration estimates).

In the YE June 2023, the ONS estimates that 508,000 people emigrated from the UK and 1.2 million people migrated to the UK. Non-EU nationals made up the vast majority (968,000) of migrants coming to the UK. EU net migration was much lower at an estimated +129,000.

According to the ONS, the increase in non-EU immigration in the YE June 2023 was mainly driven by migrants coming for work, in particular those coming on health and care visas. International students remained the single largest group of non-EU migrants, accounting for 39% of the total.

The Home Office's more up-to-date immigration statistics released yesterday showed that 585,774 work visas (including dependants) were issued in the YE September 2023, a significant increase of 205,343 compared to the same period in 2022. Visa grants made under the 'Skilled Worker – Health and Care' category more than doubled to make up 143,990 of the total. According to the Guardian, two-thirds of overall work visas went to Indian, Nigerian and Zimbabwean nationals, suggesting non-EU workers are replacing EU workers in many sectors of the post-Brexit economy.

Study visas (including dependants) were up only slightly by 8% in the YE September 2023 to reach 643,778, including sponsored and short-term students. The largest number of visa grants were to international students from India, followed by China.

You can access the Home Office's full immigration statistics online here.

As mentioned earlier, the ONS also significantly revealed yesterday that it had revised up its earlier net migration estimate for the YE December 2022 from +606,000 to a new record high of +745,000. The ONS explained: "This is driven by a 105,000 increase in immigration of non-EU nationals, mainly as a result of using improved assumptions on the proportion of arrivals that will stay long term, and having complete travel data for January to June 2022. We have also revised immigration of EU nationals down by 35,000."

Accompanying yesterday's figures is an article by the ONS that aims to enhance the overall understanding of the international migration statistics, which you can read online here, and an article describing how the ONS goes about estimating international migration, which is available here.

The latest Home Office figures on asylum showed that the number of claims stayed broadly stable to last year, but the number of decisions being made by Home Office caseworkers increased significantly to reach the highest level for nearly 20 years.

The Home Office stated: "There were 75,340 asylum applications (main applicants only) in the UK in the year ending September 2023, similar to the number in the year ending September 2022 but 10% lower than the previous peak (84,132 in 2002). In the year ending September 2023, there were 41,858 initial decisions made on asylum applications, over two and a half times more than in the previous year. This is higher than the pre-pandemic levels of decisions (20,766 decisions were made in 2019) and the most initial decisions since 2004 (46,021 decisions)."

As has become a trend in recent years, the positive grant rate on Home Office decisions remained much higher than before Covid: "Three-quarters (75%) of the initial decisions in the year ending September 2023 were grants of refugee status, humanitarian protection or alternative forms of leave. Since 2021, the grant rate has been over 70% - substantially higher than in pre-pandemic years when only around one-third of applications were successful at initial decision. Prior to this latest period, the highest grant rate was over 30 years ago: 82% in 1990."

The number of withdrawn asylum claims was also very notably high, with the Home Office explaining: "In the year ending September 2023, there were 17,316 withdrawn asylum applications, more than 4 times the number in the previous year (when there were 4,260). Withdrawn claims occur for a number of reasons, including where someone has already left the UK before their claim was considered, where they fail to attend their asylum interview, or they choose to or pursue another application for permission to stay."

Sile Reynolds, head of asylum advocacy at Freedom from Torture, said on X that this might largely be due to the high proportion of asylums claims from Albanian nationals that are now being withdrawn (73%). Reynolds added, however, that there is clearly cause for concern about the high rate of withdrawals and the lack of transparency on the reasons.

Amnesty International UK said that the overall asylum figures still showed that the Government's policy was an 'abject failure'.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK's Refugee and Migrant Rights Director, said: "Nobody should be deceived by the slight decrease in the backlog the Government has itself created by refusing to process people's asylum claims - this disastrous policy remains in place and is set to worsen if the new Home Secretary activates the draconian Illegal Migration Act. For three years, successive home secretaries have pursued an indefensible policy of simply refusing to process claims made in the UK in the hope that other countries would relieve the UK of this responsibility. The belated fast-tracking of some claims to try to bring down the backlog is an admission that the policy of refusing to process them has been an abject failure."

In terms of academic reaction to the trends suggested by yesterday's ONS net migration figures, Dr Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: "If past trends are any guide, net migration will continue to fall in coming years due mainly to more international students leaving. But there are factors that could throw the projected declines in net migration off course. For example, if health and care visas continued to increase this could have a significant impact, because most are expected to stay in the UK permanently."

Professor Jonathan Portes of King's College London said the overall migration picture remains unchanged: "Namely, the spike in migration post-pandemic was driven by increases in non-EU migration for work (especially health and care workers), students coming to study, the new schemes that were opened for British Nationals (Overseas) arriving from Hong Kong and the scheme for Ukraine, and lastly asylum seekers. However, inflows have now peaked, and emigration is now increasing. This is a natural consequence of recent inflows, especially students who make up 39% of non-EU long-term immigration. Therefore, more recent immigration => more emigration. So, emigration will continue to increase, reducing net migration."