UK net migration hits
record high of 606,000

Annual net migration to the UK hit a record high of 606,000 last year, according to the latest official immigration statistics published last week.

This represents a 24% increase on the previous high of 488,000 recorded last year and is more than double the level recorded in 2019, the year the Conservative party manifesto pledged to reduce net migration to the UK.

The publication of the data comes just days after Home Secretary Suella Braverman announced new measures the government will take to slash net migration by preventing international students from bringing family members to the UK.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing mounting pressure from some Conservative MPs to reduce the number of foreign nationals coming to the UK in line with the party’s 2019 pledge. Reacting to the data, Sunak denied that immigration was ‘out of control’, but admitted: “Numbers are too high, it’s as simple as that. And I want to bring them down.”

Net migration is the difference calculated between the numbers of people entering and leaving the UK. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), a number of factors have contributed to the record high, including more people arriving from outside the EU on student and work visas, as well as people arriving under the Ukraine visa schemes and the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa scheme.

The latest release presents immigration statistics from Home Office administrative sources, covering the period up to the end of March 2023. We set out the key points below.

Overview of the statistics

There were 3,057,654 visas granted in the year ending March 2023, 90% higher (1,449,071) than the year ending March 2022. This was primarily due to 944,957 (+155%) more grants of Visitor visas, but also due to more grants for:

  • Work visas (including dependants), up 211,285 (+76%) to 487,771.
  • Study visas (including dependants), up 161,771 (+34%) to 632,006, including sponsored and short-term students.

Of the total number of visas granted,

  • 51% were for visitors
  • 21% were for students (including dependants)
  • 16% were in work routes (including dependants)
  • 3% were for family visas and permits
  • 9% were for other reasons (including grants of leave under the Ukraine visa schemes and the BNO visa scheme).

Work visas

During this period, there were 299,891 grants to main applicants on work visas, 61% higher than in the year ending March 2022 and more than double (+119%) compared to 2019. This is largely due to increases in Skilled Worker visas.

The total number of work visas granted to main applicants by category are as follows:

  • ‘Worker’ visas – 193,892 (+97%)
  • ‘Temporary Worker’ visas – 74,071 (+28%)
  • ‘Investor, business development and talent’ visas – 4,365 (+33%)
  • ‘Other work visas and exemptions’ – 27,563 (+4%).

Skilled Worker visa grants to main applicants rose by 59% in the past year to around 69,000. Health and Care Worker visa grants to main applicants rose by over two and a half times (+171%) to around 102,000, in part due to the expansion of this route in late 2021 to include care workers and home carers.

Indian nationals were the top nationality for visas in the ‘Worker’ category, representing one third (33%) of grants, and were by far the top nationality for both the Skilled Worker and the Health and Care Worker visas.

For most types of work visas, visa holders are able to bring partners and children (‘dependants’) to the UK. In the year ending March 2023 there were 187,880 grants to dependants of people who had been granted a work visa. The proportion of all work-related visas granted to dependants was 39%, compared to 33% in the preceding year.

Study visas

In the year ending March 2023, there were 477,931 sponsored study visas issued to main applicants, 22% more than in the year ending March 2022. Indian nationals accounted for almost 30% of all sponsored study grants to main applicants – the highest of all nationalities.

Almost a quarter (24%) of all sponsored study related visas granted were to dependants of students (149,400), compared to 15% (72,062) in the year ending March 2022.

Family visas

There were 65,642 family-related visas granted, 59% more than in the year ending March 2022; over three quarters (79%) of family-related visas granted in the year ending March 2023 were to partners, with the remainder being for children or other dependants.

Visit visas

For nationalities required to obtain a visa before visiting the UK, there were 2,012,116 applications for Visitor visas in the year ending March 2023, more than double (+132%) the number from the year ending March 2022.

Visitor visa applications have continued to increase in the aftermath of the global COVID-19 pandemic but are still below the peak level recorded in the year ending December 2019 (2,758,933).

The largest increases in the latest year were in grants to:

  • Indian nationals, up 345,494 (+249%)
  • Chinese nationals, up 86,899 (+436%)
  • Turkish nationals, up 61,590 (+225%)
  • South African nationals, up 58,894 (+238%)

Visa schemes for Ukrainians

Since their introduction in March 2022, there have been 283,366 applications for a visa under Ukraine Visa Schemes, of these 225,278 have been granted and 169,300 arrivals have been identified to the year ending March 2023. In addition, there have been 24,593 extensions granted under the Ukraine Family Scheme and Ukraine Extension Scheme

British National (Overseas) visas

There have been a total of 172,500 applications for the BN(O) route since its introduction on 31 January 2021 up to the end of March 2023. 113,500 people have arrived in the UK on the scheme since it began.

Settlement and citizenship

There were 126,313 grants of settlement in the UK in the year ending March 2023, 15% more than in the year ending March 2022.

There were 200,362 applications for British citizenship in the year ending March 2023, 11% more than in the year ending March 2022. There were 181,480 grants of British citizenship in the year ending March 2023, 7% fewer than in the year ending March 2022.

Sponsorship licensing for work and study

The latest release also sets out data relating to businesses and institutions applying to sponsor migrant workers or students in 2023.

At the end of March 2023, there were around 63,400 organisations and institutions registered as licensed sponsors for work and study. The data also shows that there were 30,295 decisions made on sponsor licence applications in the year ending March 2023, compared to 17,932 in the previous year.  Of these, 23,068 licences were granted.

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