(Bloomberg) -- UK economists say the number of foreigners arriving in the country is likely to fall from a record high, providing a boost for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s vow to rein in the numbers before the next election.

A surge in net migration to 606,000 last year is deepening disquiet in the ruling Conservative Party, which touted “taking back control of our borders” as a dividend of Britain exiting the European Union. 

While migration from the EU has gone into reverse, flows from elsewhere have soared. That’s a political problem for the Tories, which are trailing far behind the Labour opposition in opinion polls.  

However, economists note that the upsurge in migration has been driven by factors that are almost certain to dissipate. The Office for Budget Responsibility sees migration averaging around 265,000 a year before settling at around 245,000 from 2028.

“The increase in non-EU migration is driven by several different factors, some transitory: students, work visas, the special visa schemes for those coming from Ukrainian and Hong Kong, and those applying for asylum,” said Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London.

As the Covid backlog of students clears, fewer will arrive in future. Meanwhile, most people who want to come from Hong Kong and Ukraine have already arrived, while signs of a cooling in the labor market is likely to reduce demand for foreign workers. 

As the UK prepares for a general election due by early 2025 but expected to be held some time next year, a fall in migration could help boost the popularity of the Conservatives.

“We’re about to get a very interesting test of the relative impact of perceptions and reality on public opinion of migration,” Rob Ford, professor of Political Science at the University of Manchester, said on a Twitter Space event held on Thursday by the UK in a Changing Europe network.

Polls show that immigration ranks behind the economy and health care with voters, with around 30% citing it as a top issue facing the country. Among Tory voters, the figure is more than 50%, but little more than 10% for Labour supporters.

Sophie Stowers, a researcher for UK in a Changing Europe, said there was a “discrepancy between how people talk about immigration in Westminster, in the [political] parties and the media, versus what public opinion actually reflects.”

While there is little public support for a numbers-based approach, she said, there was more evidence to show voters are supportive of an immigration system which demonstrates control and transparency.

This suggests that if either of Britain’s leading political parties can convince the public they have control over net migration, it could help to give them a boost when the election finally arrives. 

Read more: 

  • Migration to UK Hits Record Despite Sunak’s Clampdown Vow
  • BOE Chief Economist Says Higher Migration Will Boost UK Economy
  • Britain Loses Its Luster for Job Seekers From Poland to Portugal

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