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UK net migration record poses acute dilemma for Sunak

Immigration to Britain has hit a new high, data showed on Thursday, an unwelcome record for a government internally divided over how to handle migration policy more than two years after Brexit handed it full control on who can legally enter the country. .

The new statistics showed net migration rose to 606,000 in 2022, underscoring the dilemma facing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who faces mounting political pressure to limit the number of arrivals even as he tries revive a sluggish economy hampered by labor shortages.

Although the number is lower than many had expected, the upward trend in immigration has sparked tensions at the highest levels of Mr Sunak’s government, whose Conservative Party has been in power for 13 years but does not failed to deliver on successive promises to reduce the number of people entering the country.

Mr Sunak and his supporters could point to signs that the most recent figures have been inflated by circumstances unlikely to repeat themselves: Britain admitted nearly 160,000 people from Ukraine and Hong Kong over the course of the time period they cover, suggesting that much of the upside is temporary. .

When Britons voted in a referendum to leave the European Union in 2016, Brexit campaigners pledged to “take back control” of the country’s borders, a pledge that was widely assumed to mean immigration would decline, but the new figures show that net migration is now slightly less than double its pre-Brexit peak.

The minister responsible for migration, Suella Braverman, is a hawk on the issue, and she appeared to be critical of her government’s policy on the issue; last year she said she wanted the number of net migrations to fall below 100,000 a year.

His comments even raised speculation that Ms Braverman could quit over immigration policy and try to position herself as a potential successor to Mr Sunak if the Tories lose the next general election, due to be held next year. next.

Beneath the political tensions lurks a stark change in the profile of immigrants since post-Brexit rules came into full force in January 2021, when EU citizens lost the automatic right to work in Britain and faced the same visa restrictions as other nationalities.

Since then, the number of Eastern Europeans entering Britain has dwindled to a trickle as British employers have increasingly recruited from India, Nigeria, Pakistan and the Philippines, as well as in other non-European countries.

Britain has also offered asylum to a significant number of refugees from Ukraine, Hong Kong and Afghanistan, leading to an increase in numbers. Legal immigration soared to 504,000 – its highest number before Thursday – for the 12 months between June 2021 and June 2022.

In general, opinion polls have shown the public less concerned about legal migration in the years since the Brexit vote, although since becoming Prime Minister last autumn Mr Sunak focused on combating illegal immigration and stopping the flow of asylum seekers. crossing the English Channel from France on small boats.

Concern over increased legal immigration has grown among lawmakers in Mr Sunak’s Conservative Party, and when questioned on the issue last week he admitted the figures were ‘too high’ .

In an effort to anticipate Thursday’s announcement, the government announced earlier this week that it would prevent thousands of international students from bringing family members with them into the country.

nytimes Gt

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