How many migrants arrived in the UK in the last two years?

5 December 2023
What was claimed

There have been 1.3 million migrants over a period of two years.

Our verdict

This is the figure for net migration—the difference between those who immigrated and emigrated—which was 1.3 million in the years ending June 2022 and June 2023. Closer to 2.3 million migrants arrived in the UK over this period.

During Prime Minister’s Questions on 29 November 2023, Conservative MP Sir John Hayes said, while asking a question about migration policy, “that 1.3 million migrants over a period of two years is a catastrophe for Britain is obvious to everyone.” 

Sir John appears to be referring to recently announced net migration figures, rather than the number of immigrants arriving in the UK. 

While 1.3 million reflects the overall figure for net migration, the number of ‘new migrants’ actually arriving in the UK over those years is closer to 2.3 million.

In an article published by The Sun on Sunday 3 December, these two figures have been confused. The piece said the government “handed visas to 1.3 million legal migrants in just two years”—understating the number of those who immigrated to the UK in those years by almost a million. 

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Immigration or net migration?

The 1.3 million figure reflects net international migration, the difference between the number of people who have arrived in the UK and those who have emigrated, in the years ending June 2022 and June 2023. It is not the number of immigrants arriving in the UK over this period, which is considerably higher. 

In the year to June 2022, 1,078,000 people immigrated to the UK. In the year to June 2023, 1,180,000 arrived, meaning that in these two years combined 2,258,000 migrants arrived in the UK. 

The number of those who emigrated from the UK in the year ending June 2023 was 508,000. Combined with those who left in the year to June 2022 (471,000), we can see that 979,000 people left the country over those two years. 

The difference between these figures—979,000 subtracted from 2,258,000—gives the figure for net migration, which was 1,279,000 for the two years ending June 2023. Rounded to 1.3 million, this appears to be what Sir John was referring to. 

While this is the overall difference between those who have immigrated and those who have emigrated, it does not show how many people actually arrived. That figure is 2.3 million, not 1.3 million. 

Statistics on their own have limitations. The way they are presented is a crucial part of how they are interpreted and understood by the public. If data is presented without context or caveats, it can give an incomplete or misleading picture. 

We have contacted Sir John and the Sun for comment.

Image courtesy of Erica Fischer

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