Rishi Sunak today vowed that immigration will fall and hinted at a crackdown on student visas after net numbers coming to the UK soared to a ‘breathtaking’ record high of 504,000 in the year to June.
The extraordinary figure – roughly equivalent to the population of Liverpool – is nearly three times that for the previous 12 month period.
Downing Street pointed out the increase has been driven by hundreds of thousands of refugees from Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Ukraine being given the right to live in the UK. Officials also highlighted the end of Covid travel restrictions and a rise in student numbers.
They stressed that the figures are not directly comparable with previous years, as methodology has changed dramatically.
However, the numbers will spark alarm in government, with levels seemingly far above the highs seen before the Brexit referendum. Migration from the EU was actually negative over the year, offsetting the arrivals from the rest of the world.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has signalled her ambition to meet the long-standing Tory goal of bringing net annual migration down to the ‘tens of thousands’. She underlined this afternoon that the ‘public rightly expect us to control our borders’.
No10 said Mr Sunak is committed to reducing overall net migration but pointed to ‘unique and unprecedented circumstances’ with instability around the globe.
The PM’s spokesman suggested the issue of students being accompanied by ‘dependents’ and coming for ‘low-quality degrees’ is being discussed within government.
Mr Sunak has been focusing on illegal immigration and the Channel migrants crisis, while at the same time indicating that legal routes might be widened to plug skills shortages.