The United Kingdom is poised to witness a substantial decrease in net migration in the upcoming years, even though it is expected to stabilize at levels similar to those before Brexit, hovering around 300,000, according to an analysis conducted by academic experts. In the 12 months leading to June 2022, net migration reached a record high of 606,000, marking a 24% increase from the previous year. In response, Chancellor Rishi Sunak expressed concern over these escalating numbers and emphasized the urgent need to bring them down.
Several factors contributed to this surge in migration, including the influx of refugees from Ukraine and Hong Kong under special visa schemes, alongside significant upticks in both student and work visas. The research conducted by scholars from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University and the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics suggests that some of these factors are likely to reverse naturally in the coming years. For instance, many international students tend to return to their home countries after completing their studies, leading to increased emigration from the UK.
By analyzing the historical patterns of stay rates among different migrant groups, the report predicts a notable rise in emigration, indicating a subsequent decrease in net migration. The report highlights that there is typically a lag of two to three years between high immigration rates and increased emigration. Consequently, it is reasonable to expect a rise in emigration between now and 2025, even if the number of people arriving in the UK remains historically high.
Taking into account these stay rates and other factors such as reduced arrivals from Ukraine and Hong Kong, the analysis suggests that net migration could decline to a range of 250,000-350,000 by 2030.
Alan Manning, a professor of economics at LSE and co-author of the report, emphasized the complexity of the situation. He stated that numerous variables, such as the transition of international students to long-term work visas and the evolution of asylum applications, make it challenging for policymakers to guarantee specific levels of net migration.
In the political landscape, there has been a longstanding commitment by Conservative leaders, from David Cameron onward, to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands.” However, these promises have consistently fallen short. While Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto did not explicitly reiterate this pledge, it did emphasize the need to “fix our immigration system” and suggested that “overall numbers will come down.” Despite these intentions, net migration has surged, sparking intense debates within the Tory party.
A significant contributor to this increase in net migration has been individuals coming to the UK for employment, particularly in the health and social care sector. Work-related migration, notably in health and care professions, has played a pivotal role in shaping migration patterns. In the year ending June 2023, the Home Office issued approximately 78,000 work visas to care and senior care workers, along with over 35,000 to doctors and nurses, reflecting the National Health Service’s efforts to address staff shortages.
While the government has introduced a new NHS workforce plan aimed at reducing reliance on overseas workers by training more UK recruits, the impact of this initiative is expected to take several years to materialize fully. As the UK navigates these intricate challenges, the future of net migration remains uncertain, contingent on a multitude of factors that continue to evolve.