UK Net Immigration Figures are too high says Sunak – but is he right?

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice.
26 May 2023

The UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on 25 May 2023 that the net immigration figures are “too high” but denied that they are out of control. However what Mr Sunak did not address is that there is an acute shortage of specialist professionals in the UK and that there are unprecedented world events behind the net immigration. The first event was the lifting of restrictions following COVID that led to records levels of international immigration to the UK. The individuals came from non-EU countries for work, study and humanitarian purposes, including those arriving from the Ukraine and from Hong Kong.

Looking at the statistics more carefully, migration of 1.2m people to the UK population in 2022 is 118,000 more than were added in 2021 and nearly double the pre-pandemic levels; but it has levelled off in recent quarters and overall more people from the European Union are leaving the UK rather than arriving.

According to the published statistics EU migration took 51,000 out of the UK population last year and migration from outside the EU added 662,000 people to the UK population. The main reason identified by the Office for National Statistics for the increase in migration from outside the EU are work and humanitarian routes. About 114,00 Ukrainian nationals arrived in the UK last year under various Ukrainian schemes and about 52,000 from Hong Kong on special visas. The number of work related arrivals from outside the EU nearly doubled compared with 2021, 235,000 versus 137,000 the year before. The number of asylum seekers waiting for a decision on whether they can stay in the UK as refugees has risen by 6,500 according to the Home Office figures published. The Home Office data shows that at the end of March this year the backlog stood at 172,758 an increase from the previous quarter. 128,812 of these asylum seekers have been waiting longer than six months for their claims to be decided. The Prime Minister has promised to eradicate much of the backlog by the end of this year.

At Danielle Cohen Solicitors we believe that the elephant in the room is Brexit. No-one seems to want to mention it. The cost of living is blamed on the Kremlin and the invasion of Ukraine. Struggling NHS near breaking point is blamed on the pandemic and whilst Brexit may not be politically palatable, ignoring does make little sense. Brexit has significantly worsened the country’s economic performance and the World Development Report 2023 published on the World Bank website identifies migration as a unique opportunity to make migration work better for economies and people. Wealthy countries as well as a growing number of middle income countries face diminishing populations, intensifying the global complication for workers and talent.

The World Bank Senior Managing Director said “Migration can be a powerful force for prosperity and development. When managed properly, it provides benefits for all people – in origin and destination societies”.

The report states that current approaches in the world not only fails to maximise the potential development gains of migration, but also causes suffering for “people moving in distress”, namely refugees. The report disclosed the urgency of managing migration better. It states that the goal of policy makers should be to strengthen the match of migrant skills’ with the demand in destination societies, while protecting refugees and reducing the need for distressed movements. This excellent report provides a framework for policy makers on how to do this. “This World Development Report proposes a simple but powerful framework to aid the making of migration and refugee policy”, said the Chief Economist of the World Bank Group and the Senior Vice President for Development Economies Indermit Gill. “Origin countries”, he says “should make labour migration an explicit part of their development strategy, and destination countries should encourage migration with the skills migrants who are in high demand and facilitate inclusion and address social impacts that raise concerns among their citizens”. “They should let refugees move, get jobs, and access national services wherever they are available”.