UK net migration hits highest level in four years

The Office for National Statistics published figures on Thursday.

Crowds shopping in London's Oxford Street
Crowds shopping in London's Oxford Street

Net migration in the UK has risen to its highest level in four years, driven by a jump in non-EU students coming to study.

In the year to March the balance between the number of people entering and leaving the country was around 313,000, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This has risen by around 92,000 since March last year and is the highest level since March 2016, when net migration was an estimated 326,000.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Over the past year, around 715,000 people moved to the UK and around 403,000 people left the UK, according to a report published on Thursday.

It said: “The increase in immigration and net migration is being driven by an increase in non-EU nationals arriving in the UK for study reasons.”

Of those coming to the UK, 257,000 were arriving for study, with 458,000 arriving for work, family or other reasons.

Immigration from non-EU countries rose to 437,000, a jump of 31% in the latest year and the highest it has ever been since records began in 1975, when it was 93,000, the data shows.

Net migration from outside the EU is also at its highest level (316,000) since citizenship information was first collected in 1975 (40,000).

Meanwhile, immigration from EU countries fell by 4% in the latest year to 195,000 – its lowest level since 2012.

Long-term immigration to the UK
(PA Graphics)

The figures are classed as experimental estimates after the ONS admitted last year it had underestimated some EU net migration data in 2016/17.

Jay Lindop, director of the Centre for International Migration at the ONS, said: “Our best estimate of net migration, using all available data sources, is 313,000 for the year ending March 2020.

“After a period of stability, we were seeing migration levels begin to increase in the past 12 months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This was being driven by increases in non-EU student arrivals, mainly from China and India.”

The figures, to the end of March, “do not take into account the significant impact the pandemic has had on international migration since then”, she added.

Immigration experts suggested there has been a sharp fall in migration since the coronavirus outbreak took hold, in light of separate data also published on Thursday which indicates a “collapse” in visas being granted.

The number of visas granted in the year to June dropped 29% to 2.1 million, with around 12% issued for study and 7% for work, according to the Home Office.

Rob McNeil, deputy director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “There has been a total collapse in the number of visas granted in the second quarter of the year, after lockdown measures were brought in.

“The impacts are seen right across the board, with many fewer people getting visas for work, study and family. While statistics for the first quarter of the year suggested non-EU net migration had sharply increased, this is now ancient history.

“The big question for the future is how long these impacts last and whether we start to see a recovery in non-EU migration later in the year—particularly among students who usually get their visas in the third quarter.”

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