Students drive UK net migration to highest level since EU referendum

Foreign students drove net migration to the UK to 313,000 – its highest level since the 2016 Brexit referendum – before the coronavirus pandemic struck Britain

  • 331,000 more people entered the UK than left in the year to March, the ONS said
  • This 92,000 above figure in March 2019 and the highest level since March 2016 
  • But they are likely to be the highest for some time as they precede lockdown 

Net migration to the UK soared to its highest level since the Brexit referendum in 2016 in the build up to the coronanvirus outbreak, new figures reveal today.

A surge in student numbers, specially from south east Asia, saw 331,000 more people enter the UK than left in the year to March, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This was an increase in around 92,000 on the figure in March 2019 and the highest level since March 2016, when net migration was an estimated 326,000.

But the figures are likely to be the last to see large numbers of people entering and leaving the UK, because of the lockdown that came into force at the end of that month.  

Over the past year, around 715,000 people moved to the UK and around 403,000 people left the UK, according to the ONS report.

Jay Lindop, director of the Centre for International Migration at the ONS, said: ‘Our best estimate of net migration, using all available data sources, is 313,000 for the year ending March 2020.

‘After a period of stability, we were seeing migration levels begin to increase in the past 12 months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic.

‘This was being driven by increases in non-EU student arrivals, mainly from China and India.’

The figures, to the end of March, ‘do not take into account the significant impact the pandemic has had on international migration since then’, he added.

It said: ‘The increase in immigration and net migration is being driven by an increase in non-EU nationals arriving in the UK for study reasons.’

Of those coming to the UK, 257,000 were arriving for study, with 458,000 arriving for work, family or other reasons.

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