The ONS said: “Both a slowing of immigration and rising of emigration means that levels of net migration have levelled off in recent quarters.
“An estimated 606,000 more people arrived long-term to the UK than departed in the year ending December 2022, 118,000 higher than a year previously, but similar to levels in the year ending June 2022.”
The surge will fuel demands for ministers to go further to meet their manifesto pledge.
Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, hinted on Wednesday that the Government could bring forward more measures, saying there “may be more that needs to be done”.
He said the manifesto pledge was a “solemn promise to the British public”.
Sir John Hayes, a former home office minister and a close ally of Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, said population growth as a result of high net migration placed “unsustainable” pressure on housing and local services.
He said bringing it down was up to the whole Government, not just the Home Office.
“The Government as a whole has got to grasp this issue. You can’t grow your population at 700,000 a year, where on earth are you going to house these people? The pressure it puts on services and housing is unsustainable,” he said.
Government has ‘lost control’
Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, said the figures showed the Government had “lost control” of immigration.
“They have failed to have a strategy in place for our local labour market, and as a result of that, employers are being forced to reach for overseas immigration,” he said.
“We need a much more balanced approach, ensuring that we have the immigration we need of course, but that there’s much more opportunity for skills, productivity training, workforce planning to get our economy firing on all cylinders again.”
Madeleine Sumption, director of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, said the surge in net migration was down to three factors coming together at once: refugees from Ukraine, a boom in the recruitment of international students, and a larger number of skilled workers particularly in the health and care sector.
She warned that the care sector would only end its dependance on overseas workers if it adopted a “funding model that provides for higher wages and better conditions”.
Figures too high, says Prime Minister
Mr Sunak admitted the net migration figures were “too high” but denied they were out of control.
“Numbers are too high, it’s as simple as that. And I want to bring them down,” he said on ITV’s This Morning.
He said measures put in place this week restricting foreign student dependants and their right to work in the UK “were significant” and would bring levels down over time.
The public should “rest assured” that the Government was working to bring down overall migration numbers, he said. “This week we announced the new measures, and I think pretty much the biggest thing that anyone’s ever announced to bring the levels of migration down,” he added.
“And it’s a new policy which limits the amount of family members that people who are studying here can bring with them when they come and study here.
“And what we’ve seen over the last few years is that number of dependants has just absolutely spiralled, almost 150,000 dependants of people who are studying here coming. We’re saying from now on, that’s not going to be allowed.
“There’s a few other things we’re doing as well, but that’s going make a big difference because I want to get the numbers down.
“People have heard me talking a lot about illegal migration and stopping the boats. This matters as well.”
‘Unprecedented world events’
Jay Lindop, director of the ONS’s Centre for International Migration, said: “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.
“The main drivers of the increase were people coming to the UK from non-EU countries for work, study and for humanitarian purposes, including those arriving from Ukraine and Hong Kong.
“For the first time since using our new methods to measure migration, we have also included asylum seekers in our estimates, with around one in 12 non-EU migrants coming via this route.
“Recent data suggests that those arriving in 2021 are now leaving the country, with the overall share of non-EU immigration for students falling in 2022. In contrast, those arriving on humanitarian routes increased over the 12 months.
“Evidence also suggests immigration has slowed in recent months, potentially demonstrating the temporary nature of these events.”