End of Covid restrictions sees net migration hit 500,000 for first time ever

The unique combination of the ending of Covid restrictions, coupled with bespoke schemes for Ukrainians, Afghans and Hong Kong residents, have seen net migration hit a record high of 504,000 in the 12 months to June 2022, despite net migration from the EU actually falling, the Resolution Foundation said today (Thursday) in response to the latest ONS statistics.

The latest ONS data – which offers the first official insight into international migration levels under the new post-Brexit migration regime since the relaxation of Covid restrictions – shows that annual net migration levels have trebled from 173,00 in the year to June 2021 to reach 504,000 in the year to June 2022 – it’s highest level since records began.

Net migration from the rest of the world increased to a record 509,000, with net migration from the EU actually negative over this period (minus 51,000). Schemes for Afghans (21,000), Ukrainians (89,000) and Hong Kong residents (28,000) added around 140,000 to the overall net migration total.

People arriving to work explain only a small part of this increase, with study and ‘other’, including asylum and family reunification, driving the majority of the increase.

The Foundation notes that while these record figures are due to a combination of unique circumstances, the latest ONS data follows the recent OBR forecast that migration levels would average around 200,000 a year, rather than 130,000 as forecast back in March 2022.

The Foundation says that the latest data also shows how the UK’s new post-Brexit migration regime has fundamentally shifted migration patterns from the EU to the rest of the world.

It adds that higher than expected higher migration levels in the 2020s will boost economic growth, but will have little impact on GDP per capita, which is a more important driver of growth in living standards.

Finally, the Foundation says that while the shift in migration will have little impact on workers’ wages, the changing availability of migrant labour will affect firms’ decisions on skills and investment, which employers will need to adapt to as they continue to struggle with skills shortages.

Greg Thwaites, Research Director at the Resolution Foundation, said:

“The unique combination of the ending of Covid restrictions, coupled with bespoke scheme for Afghans, Ukrainians and Hong Kong residents has pushed net migration up to a record high of over 500,000 over the past 12 months.

We don’t yet know whether immigration will remain at these high levels, or whether they will unwind as the various special factors unwind. But if they do remain this high, they will eventually prompt major changes to the government’s fiscal plans, as the extra workers generate more tax, and the extra residents need more schools, hospital and houses.

“Migration patterns have also fundamentally shifted post-Brexit. Net migration among EU citizens is actually negative, and the share of migrations arriving for work reasons is relatively low. Firms will need to adapt to these shifts, and many will need to change their skills and recruitment strategies if they’re to avoid damaging labour shortages.”