Net migration is set to hit a record high as non-EU workers and students extend their post-Brexit stay in the UK.
Forecasts suggest net migration for the year ending June 2023, due to be announced on Thursday, could be as low as 480,000 and as high as 700,000 following two previous peaks of 606,000 in the years ending June 2022 and December 2022.
That would give a two-year total of more than one million, the highest figure since records began 43 years ago when net migration was negative, with more leaving the UK than arriving.
It comes amid growing evidence that more workers and students are staying in the UK, partly because they come largely from non-EU countries with lower pay rates rather than the EU and have been able to bring their dependents to set up home in Britain.
The figures are expected to fuel fresh demands for Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, to crack down on net migration on top of his pledge to stop the boats. It blows apart the Government’s 2019 manifesto pledge to bring down the overall rate of net migration from its then level of 226,000.
Downing Street said yesterday that Mr Sunak was “actively” looking at measures to cut net migration. Among the measures are a rise in the salary threshold required for skilled workers to be allowed to come to Britain from its current £26,200 a year to £31,000 in line with inflation increases since it was frozen.
Ministers are also looking at curbing the right of overseas care workers to bring family members as they seek to reduce record levels of net immigration, although it is thought unlikely that it will be announced as part of any package on Thursday. One compromise could be to limit care workers to bringing in a single dependent.
It follows the announcement that foreign postgraduate students will be barred from bringing their dependents unless they are on research programmes.
‘Not what the country voted for’
A senior Tory MP said: “We said we intended to bring down net migration at the last election. We decided to depart from that and preside over unparalleled net migration which no-one has voted for. It is not what the country voted for. Only a tiny minority of the country would be happy with migration at that level.
“GDP per capita, social cohesion and housing all need to be taken into account. It’s for the Government to set out what net migration should be.”
Home Office figures show the number of visas granted to foreign workers and their families has more than trebled in two years from 170,570 in the year ending June 2021 to 538,887 in the year ending June 2023.
Student visas have more than doubled in the same period from just over 300,000 to nearly 660,000.
Home Office figures show some one in five students (20 per cent) remained in the UK six years after starting their studies last year, the highest since 2016.
The data indicates a 13 per cent year-on-year increase in long-stay students as some 199,212 students who began studies in 2017 still had valid visas in 2022 – including 33,002 with indefinite leave to remain.
The proportion of students converting to work visas has also risen to nearly eight per cent, the highest figure for a decade.
There have also been big increases in visa extensions, for workers, up 75 per cent to 386,602, and students, up 96 per cent to 66,153, in the year ending March 2023.
Experts pointed out these rises would not affect the net migration figures as they had neither entered nor left the country but they said there was evidence of a five per cent rise in the number of foreign visa holders remaining in the UK after a year.
“The real test will be what happens at the three to four year mark, which is when in the past many workers and students have gone home,” said one migration expert.