UK: PM Rishi Sunak faces backlash as immigration hits record high in 2022

Data finds people coming from non-EU countries for work, study, and as refugees

Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as official data from Office for National Statistics revealed on Thursday as immigration has reached a record high in the country in 2022. According to reports, A total of 1.2 million people moved to the UK in 2022, while 5,57,000 left.

“Total long-term immigration was estimated at around 1.2 million in 2022, and emigration was 5,57,000, which means migration continues to add to the population with net migration ( the difference between the number of people arriving and those leaving) at 6,06,000,” the report said. According to the report, most people were arriving from non-EU countries; 9,25,000 were from non-EU countries, 1,51,000 from the EU and 88,000 were British. 

The data found that people were travelling to the UK for work, study and on humanitarian purposes like seeking asylum. “Unique events such as those arriving from Ukraine and Hong Kong, have contributed towards relatively high levels of immigration over the past 18 months; however, growth has slowed over recent quarters, potentially demonstrating the temporary nature of these impacts,” the report said. 

The net figure is up from just under 5,00,000 in 2021. The total UK population is about 67 million.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the immigration figure was too high, but he did not say what an ideal number would be.

"We've got to be sensitive to the needs of the (health service), the economy, but fundamentally the numbers are too high I'm bringing them down," he told broadcaster ITV.

The high figure revived debate about Britain's departure from the European Union, which was motivated in part by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people from across Europe in the years before the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Supporters of Brexit said leaving the EU, which gives citizens of any member country the right to live and work in all the others, would allow the UK to control its borders. Many who voted for Brexit thought immigration would fall, but the opposite has been true. 

The UK still issues tens of thousands of work visas a year to fill jobs in hospitals, nursing homes and other sectors. While the number of people moving to Britain from EU countries fell to 1,51,000 in 2022, the number from outside the bloc was 9,25,000, and India has overtaken European nations as the top source of workers.

While most economists say immigration is an economic boon to Britain, some residents say new arrivals are putting more pressure on overstretched public services and worsening a national housing shortage.

The subject of immigration also gets conflated with the emotive issue of asylum-seekers who arrive in Britain in small boats across the English Channel. The UK government has taken controversial steps to try to halt the journeys, including a contentious and legally contested plan to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda.

Some lawmakers from the governing Conservative Party demanded tough new measures to curb immigration. But Conservative legislator Alicia Kearns, who chairs Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, warned against knee-jerk reactions.

She said net migration numbers shouldn't include students, adding that the UK's position as an academic superpower is very beneficial. She added that the country needs to fill jobs wealth creators have made, and that the UK has been proud to offer refuge to Ukrainians and residents of Hong Kong. 

(With PTI inputs.)

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