A post published on Facebook by student political organisation Turning Point UK (TPUK) claims that one million “legal migrants” came to Britain in the years 2020 and 2021, and raises concerns about pressures on housing, education and healthcare services.
However, the central claim of one million migrants coming to Britain in those years is unsubstantiated by the available data, which was collected pre-pandemic.
The Facebook post specifically states that one million legal migrants “have come to Britain” in “2020/2021”.
The phrasing 2020/2021 usually refers to a single 12-month period, for example 1 April to 31 March, but TPUK confirmed to Full Fact that they were referring to one million over the course of two years (2020 and 2021), which would work out at 500,000 each year.
A spokesperson for TPUK told Full Fact that their claim was based on an Office for National Statistics (ONS) release which states that, in the year ending March 2020, 715,000 people moved to the UK.
This figure only covers the first three months of 2020 and, crucially, includes nine months of 2019—which was not included in TPUK’s claim—and none of 2021.
Looking at the figure of 715,000 alone, however, misses vital context. The ONS calculated that 403,000 people also left the UK in this time period, meaning 313,000 more people moved to the UK, intending to stay for 12 months or more, than left the UK.
TPUK’s post frames the immigration numbers in the context of concerns around housing, education and healthcare systems being overwhelmed. It’s therefore important to look at the net migration figure (313,000), rather than the raw immigration figures, in order to assess a potential increase in demands on housing, schools and the NHS, to use the examples from TPUK’s post.
Comparable figures for 2021 have not yet been released due to the pandemic, which means we don’t know how many people immigrated to (or emigrated from) the UK in the period from March 2020 to March 2021, or indeed any later in 2021. Significantly, this period covers the Covid-19 crisis, which severely impacted international travel.
When asked about how TPUK calculated their claim, a spokesperson said that the yearly figures “show a stable trend of 700,000 legal migrants per annum, which can be mapped over years”.
This isn’t true, and in fact 715,000 appears to have been a significant increase compared to previous years.
A comparable ONS release, published in August 2019, showed 612,00 people had immigrated to the UK and 385,000 emigrated from the UK in the 12 months up to March 2019. In August 2018, the ONS said: “Long-term immigration and long-term emigration have remained broadly stable at around 610,000 and 340,000 respectively in the year ending March 2018”.
A TPUK spokesperson added: “Basing our number on recent trends, if under half as many people who entered the UK in 2020, entered in 2021 we will have hit the one million figure. In fact this figure is a conservative number.”
Again, 715,000 legal migrants arriving over the course of a year does not represent a trend. There’s no data to substantiate TPUK’s speculation about what proportion of the usual number of immigrants arrived into the UK in the year ending March 2021, and as we’ve noted this figure doesn’t look at people leaving the UK too.
Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, told Full Fact that to get the “very highest number” of migrants to the UK you could use published visa data over the course of 2020 and the first half of 2021.
She said: “If you exclude visitors but include everything else, including the very short-term workers or students, it comes to 748,885 visa grants.
“Note alongside this that ONS thinks the number of EU citizens is likely to have fallen in 2020, so while there will be some additional EU inflows in 2020 that can’t be measured, the overall number has fallen.
“Not all the migrants receiving visas will have come to the UK, though, and separate ONS analysis has found that many people did not take up the visas that had been granted to them. Also, these are gross inflows, many are very short term such as an intra-corporate worker coming for a few weeks. So anything that implied they were still here would be very misleading.”