Ministers claim progress on immigration despite net inflows running at 685,000 last year - roughly equivalent to the population of Sheffield - and record level from 2022 being revised UP to 764,000

Ministers claimed progress today after net immigration dropped by 10 per cent last year - although it was still 685,000.

The latest figures on the key election battleground suggested that net long-term inflows were slightly more than the population of Sheffield in 2023.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also revised up the previous year to 764,000 - increasing the already eye-watering record high.

The Home Office stressed the estimates 'do not take into account the major package of measures announced in December which have already started to have an effect'.

Those overhauled family, study and work-related visas, including cracking down on people bringing dependants.

The ONS said it was too early to tell if a downward trend had begun, but the number of people coming to the UK is slowing while emigration is rising.

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Work was the biggest driver of migration in 2023, overtaking study, and there was a substantial increase in the number of people arriving from outside the EU on work-related visas, the figures suggest.

The measure – which is the difference between the number of people arriving and leaving the country – has been revised upwards by 19,000 for 2022 from an earlier estimate of 745,000 now that more complete data for the year is available.

Some 1.22million people are estimated to have arrived in the UK in 2023 (immigration), while 532,000 are likely to have left (emigration). This is compared with 1.26 million and 493,000 respectively in 2022.

The rise in the number of people emigrating from the UK long-term has been driven largely by increased emigration from non-EU nationals, particularly among those who initially arrived on a study visa, the ONS said.

The figures precede a raft of restrictions brought in by the Government since the start of 2024 amid pressure to cut the record number of people legally arriving in Britain.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said: 'The latest migration statistics show a 10 per cent fall in net migration last year, with visa applications down 25 per cent so far in 2024.

'This shows the plan under Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives is working but there is more to do. That is why we must stick to the plan, not go back to square one.'

The Migration Observatory's director Madeleine Sumption said the period of high net migration 'has now persisted for a while' because of 'several different causes' but 'early data suggest we may see a bigger decline later in 2024, following the recent policy changes'.

The estimates show that non-EU immigration for work-related reasons increased from 277,000 in the year to December 2022 to 423,000 in the year to December 2023, replacing study as the main reason for long-term migration.

More than four out of 10 people moving to the UK for work-related reasons last year came from India or Nigeria, most commonly in the health and social care sector.

The number of non-EU nationals arriving as dependants of those on long-term work visas was higher last year than the number of main applicants, at 219,000 and 204,000 respectively.

Levels of net migration to the UK have varied sharply in recent years.

The figure was on a downwards trend immediately before the Covid-19 pandemic, falling from an estimated 276,000 in 2018 to 184,000 in 2019.

It dropped to an estimated 93,000 in 2020, when restrictions introduced during the pandemic limited travel and movement.

The total then rose to 466,000 in 2021, before jumping further to a record 764,000 in 2022.

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Home Secretary James Cleverly said the government's 'plan is working'

Home Secretary James Cleverly said the government's 'plan is working'

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The most recent estimate of 685,000 for 2023, suggests levels are starting to fall once again, although 'it is too early to say if this is the start of a new downward trend,' the ONS said.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: 'These figures show the total Tory chaos and failure on immigration as net migration has more than trebled since Rishi Sunak and his party promised to get it down at the last election.

'14 years of Conservative failure on both the economy and immigration has led to around a 50% increase in work migration in the last year alone because they have disastrously failed to tackle skills shortages. The Tories can't even manage to clean up their own chaos.

'Labour will bring in proper plans to link the points-based immigration system with boosting skills here at home.

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