The United Kingdom has pledged to cut dependency on foreign labour as net migration in the country has hit a record 606,000 in 2022, official figures showed on Thursday.
Responding to the figures, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described legal immigration levels as “too high”.
“It’s as simple as that and I want to bring them down,” he told ITV in an interview.
Measures announced earlier this week to tighten the number of international students allowed to bring their families with them would have a significant impact, he added.
Immigration has long been a key political issue in the UK and was one of the main battlegrounds of the Brexit referendum in 2016, which saw the country leave the European Union.
In 2021, net migration — the difference between the number of people leaving the UK and those arriving — was 488,000.
Jay Lindop, director of the centre for international migration at the Office for National Statistics said world events such as the end of the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine played a part in the increase.
China’s squeeze on civil rights in Hong Kong, which led to the UK relaxing entry rules for holders of British overseas passports, also had an impact.
“A series of unprecedented world events throughout 2022 and the lifting of restrictions following the coronavirus pandemic led to record levels of international immigration to the UK,” said Lindop.
Brexit brought an end to the policy of free movement of people from EU member states, which many businesses have since blamed for a shortage of workers.
Among those hardest hit have been agriculture, and the health and social care sector, prompting the government to relax immigration rules to try to plug the gap.
The main opposition Labour party’s home affairs spokeswoman, Yvette Cooper, called the latest figures “extraordinary” and said it showed the government had “no plan and no grip” on the issue.
“Ministers have completely failed to tackle skills shortages or help people back into work after Covid,” she added.
Some members in Sunak’s ruling Conservative party said current immigration levels were unsustainable, as house building in England has plunged to its lowest level since World War II.
“Where on earth are you going to house these people? We build about 180,000 new homes a year.
“You just can’t grow the population at that pace,” he added, pointing to pressures on public services and housing,” John Hayes, a former government minister, told BBC radio.