UK net migration hits record high of 606000


A passenger walks through the arrivals hall after landing at London Heathrow Airport on January 15, 2021.

Photo credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas | AFP

Net migration to the UK hit a record 606,000 in 2022, official figures showed Thursday, heaping pressure on the government which has pledged to cut dependency on foreign labour.

Immigration has long been a key political issue in the UK, and was one the main battlegrounds of the Brexit referendum in 2016 which saw the country  leave the bloc.

"A series of unprecedented world events throughout 2022 and the lifting of restrictions following the coronavirus pandemic led to record levels of international immigration to the UK," said Jay Lindop, director of the centre for international migration at the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The main drivers were people coming to the UK from non-EU countries for "work, study and for humanitarian purposes", he said.

The figures included those arriving from Ukraine after Russia's invasion and Hong Kong, where the UK relaxed entry rules for holders of British overseas passports after China's squeeze on civil rights.

The Conservative government has repeatedly promised that by leaving the EU, and ending the free movement of people from member states, the UK could "take back control" of its borders.

Since 2018, the country has also seen thousands of people successfully cross the Channel in small boats to claim asylum. 

More than 45,000 arrived last year, prompting the introduction of tougher new measures to try to stem the flow of migrants deemed to have entered the country illegally.

One of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's predecessors, Boris Johnson, agreed a deal with Rwanda last year to relocate failed asylum-seekers to the central African country.

But the scheme has been mired in legal battles and is yet to get underway.