Net migration in the UK hit a record 606,000 in 2022, official figures showed on Thursday, heaping pressure on the government, which has pledged to cut dependency on foreign labour. Responding to the figures, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described legal immigration levels as "too high", AFP reports.
"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 (ONS), 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.