By Brian O’Flynn

New figures out today reveal that net migration – the number of people coming here minus those leaving – has fallen ten per cent in a year.

The government says “this shows the plan under Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives is working” – but admits there is “more to do”.

Labour says the stats show “total Tory chaos and failure on immigration”.

So, with both parties accusing the other of failure, how do their records on migration compare?

FactCheck takes a look.

How many people are coming to the UK every year?

More than 1.2 million people moved to the UK in 2023, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics published today.

Around half a million people left the country over the same period, meaning net migration was 685,000 last year.

That’s ten per cent lower than 2022, when it hit an all-time high of 764,000.

But it’s still much higher than when the Conservatives took office in 2010, when net migration was around 250,000.

How does this compare to the last Labour government?

When Tony Blair took office in 1997, he inherited very little net migration from the Conservatives.

In fact, in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher, there were even years when net migration was negative – meaning more people left Britain than arrived.

By 1997, net migration had crept to 48,000. A significant figure at the time, but still a fraction of today’s figures.

By the time Labour left government in 2010, it had increased fivefold, to around 250,000.

What’s driving high net migration?

Immigration in 2023 was driven by people from outside the EU coming to the UK on work and study visas with their “dependants”. That is, spouses who don’t have their own work visas, as well as children.

In fact, around 800,000 of the 1.2 million people who arrived in the UK last year came on a work or study visa, or were a dependant of someone who did.

This is ten times higher than the number of people arriving to seek asylum – which was around 80,000 in 2023.

And we can see how those working and studying account for an ever increasing majority of the net inward migration figure.

Work and study visa restrictions

In December 2023, the Home Secretary announced new measures to reduce this type of migration, by restricting care workers from bringing their families with them to the UK, and by increasing the amount of money you’d need to earn in order to qualify for a skilled worker visa.

These measures took effect between March and April this year.

Other statistics released by the Home Office today already show a significant drop in the numbers of health and care worker visa applications.

In the first three months of 2024, fewer than 9,000 health and care workers applied for visas – compared to 38,000 in the same period last year. Since the ONS net migration data is only up to December 2023, it doesn’t capture this.

These figures suggest the policy change may already be having a deterrent effect on care workers applying for UK work visas, which could push down net migration for 2024. However, this is hard to predict, and could be offset by increases in other areas.

Does net migration help grow the economy?

It’s important to note that despite all the rhetoric, the government spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, says more net migration actually helps the economy as a whole to grow. Though when it comes to whether GDP per person is pushed up by immigration, it says the impact is less certain.

The Conservatives told us that voters have a “clear choice” – between their “bold clear plan to control immigration” or “going back to square one” with Labour.

Labour told us today’s stats show “total Tory chaos”. The party says it will “bring in proper plans to link the points-based immigration system with boosting skills” in the UK.

(Photo by Dinendra Haria/LNP/Shutterstock)