Prime Minister says he is considering options to bring down net migration

The Prime Minister has promised action to bring down net migration ahead of fresh data that is expected to show it reached record levels last year.

Rishi Sunak told reporters in Japan that he wanted to be “crystal clear” with the public that the “numbers are too high” and he wants to “bring them down”.

The Government is reportedly braced for the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to publish figures this week showing net migration — the number of people arriving via legal means, subtracted from the amount leaving the country — reached at least 700,000 in the 12 months up to December 2022.

That will exceed the record of 500,000 set in the year to June 2022 and is substantially higher than the 226,000 level which stood when the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto promised that “overall numbers will come down” following the introduction of post-Brexit border controls.

Mr Sunak, speaking at a press conference in Hiroshima after attending the G7 leaders’ meeting, said he could not discuss “specific measures” that were under consideration.

But the Tory leader said he was currently weighing up an action plan, with an announcement to be made “shortly”.

“I’m considering a range of options to bring the numbers down,” he said.

“We’ll have more to say on that shortly.

“But let me be unequivocal that future numbers of legal migration are too high and I’m committed and the Government is committed to bringing those numbers down.”

It comes after the head of a committee that advises ministers on migration issues said his panel supports curbing the amount of time overseas university students can stay in Britain.

A graduate visa allows one-year masters students to bring spouses and children to the country with them, with the family permitted to stay on with them for another two years after their course is over if they are able to find employment.

According to the ONS, a significant factor behind the swell in net migration numbers in recent years has been an increase in foreign students and their dependents arriving.

Student survey
The Government is reportedly considering placing further restrictions on overseas masters students bringing dependents with them to Britain (Chris Radburn/PA)

ONS data shows that people arriving on study visas accounted for the largest proportion (39%) of long-term immigration of non-EU nationals in the year to June 2022, at 277,000 people.

That was up from 143,000 in the previous 12 months.

Reports have suggested that ministers are planning to stop family members joining overseas masters students at UK universities, in a move designed to curb the numbers coming from countries such as India and Nigeria.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been driving the idea, along with looking to reduce the amount of time graduates are permitted to stay to find work from two years to six months.

On Sunday, Mr Sunak met Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, who had been invited to take part during some elements of the G7 meetings.

According to the Indian government’s account of their meeting, the pair discussed higher education, a topic which is likely to have touched upon the topic of student visas.

Ahead of fresh migration statistics being published, the Environment Secretary denied that ministers had lost control of the numbers entering the country.

Therese Coffey said it was “critical” that people had access to some of the world’s best universities that are based in the UK.

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey appeared to defend the number of foreign students arriving in the UK (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The Cabinet minister told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “I think we do have the control because we set the rules.

“The biggest increase so far has been the number of people coming to study here.

“Our universities are very keen to have people coming from around the world. We also see it as a great way to potentially attract talent.

“If it is easier to go and study in the USA or elsewhere, at the same time while we have I think it is four of the top 10 universities in the world by international rankings, it is critical that we try and make sure people have access to that excellence.”

She said schemes to take people from Ukraine and Hong Kong were also behind the rise in last year’s numbers.

But Labour shadow minister Liz Kendall said net migration “should come down” rather than increase.

She told Sophy Ridge that if her party wins the next election, it would link work visas to “skills gaps in our population”.