The latest immigration statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have the British government reviewing visa and admissions requirements for foreign students. "We are considering all options to ensure the system works," a government spokesman said Friday, mentioning not only family reunion arrangements for students but a review of "low-quality study subjects." With net immigration of 504,000 people in the 12 months leading up to June 2022, the U.K. set an all-time record. The largest group of immigrants are students and their dependents. They accounted for 39 percent of net immigration - 277,000 in absolute numbers.
The surge in immigration is increasing pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who only recently reiterated his desire to limit immigration. Nigel Farage, who as former leader of the populist Ukip had a hand in Brexit, said the new figures were "hard to swallow." The Tories deserved to be "razed to the ground" in the next election, he said.
In the 12 months to June, a total of 1.1 million people had come to Britain. During the same period, 560,000 left the kingdom. The ONS explained the net immigration of more than half a million people by an "unprecedented confluence of events," including the end of the Corona pandemic, the post-Brexit transition, the war in Ukraine, and a surge in work and study visas issued. Of the 1.1 million immigrants, about 400,000 came from the European Union. At the same time, more than 450,000 EU citizens left the kingdom. For Greg Thwaites of the Resolution Foundation think tank, this indicates that "immigration patterns have fundamentally changed post-Brexit."
Experts warn against hasty action. The unusually high overall immigration should not be misunderstood as a "new normal," said Madeleine Sumption of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University. She also attributed the soaring numbers to special arrangements for foreign workers in the National Health Service, as well as so-called humanitarian routes for the politically persecuted. According to the Home Office, the U.K. has granted leave to remain to 144,600 Ukrainians, 144,000 people from Hong Kong and nearly 23,000 Afghans. Home Secretary Suella Braverman highlighted the "generosity" of British society and said this is precisely why illegal immigration and "abuse of the system" must be stopped. Illegal migration across the English Channel accounted for less than five percent of total immigration.
London had already introduced official quotas for refugees before Brexit. These have since been expanded. After Brexit, the government also enacted a new immigration law that makes work visas a requirement for all migrants, including EU citizens coming to the UK. Since January 2021, more than 550,000 visas have been issued, including 310,000 for "skilled workers," most of whom have been placed in the healthcare sector. Because of the general labor shortage, the British government relaxed the requirements for many applicants and capped the cap.
Photo by Kristina Gadeikyte