Net migration to UK remained steady in first part of pandemic, figures suggest

Some 81,000 non-EU nationals are estimated to have left, compared to 332,000 arrivals.

Ian Jones
Thursday 26 May 2022 13:55
Commuters crossing London Bridge, in central London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Commuters crossing London Bridge, in central London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Net migration to the UK remained steady during the first part of the Covid-19 pandemic, despite restrictions on movement in and out of the country, new figures suggest.

Around 239,000 more people are estimated to have moved to the UK than left in the 12 months to June 2021, down slightly from 260,000 in the year to June 2020.

Almost all of this net migration was accounted for by nationals from outside the European Union.

The figures have been compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) using a new experimental model for estimating levels of international migration, which means they cannot be compared with previously published data.

But they provide a first clue to migration behaviour during the early stages of the pandemic – a period that coincided with the end of the Brexit transition process and the introduction of a new immigration system.

The number of non-EU nationals who arrived in the UK in the year to June 2021 is estimated to be 332,000, while 81,000 left the country, meaning net migration was likely to be 251,000.

By contrast, slightly more EU nationals are estimated to have left the UK (193,000) than arrived (181,000).

Net migration of British nationals was also estimated to be close to zero.

Jay Lindop, director of the ONS centre for international migration, said: “The 12 months to June 2021 was a period when migration behaviour was impacted by the restrictions imposed to manage the coronavirus pandemic as well as ongoing changes in migration policy following Brexit.

“Bringing together the best sources of data we have available, our latest estimates of net migration suggest that around 239,000 more people came to the UK than left, driven by non-EU immigration.

“Due to the data collection challenges posed by the pandemic, we’ve used new, experimental, methods to produce today’s numbers and these will be finessed over the coming months as more data becomes available, including census numbers.

“While the figures give a snapshot of migration during the pandemic, they should not be compared with historic trends and are subject to change.”

The estimates do not provide a breakdown of reasons for migration, due to limited information on EU nationals.

New EU arrivals to the UK have only required visas from January 2021, while others will have been able to enter if already registered under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Other data sources point to an increase in non-EU student arrivals, the ONS added.

In preparing its new experimental figures, the ONS used Home Office visa data for non-EU migration numbers, while EU migration has been estimated using the Registration and Population Interaction Database (RAPID) created by the Department for Work and Pensions.

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