Overview of Immigration to the UK in 2021 to 2022
The period between June 2021 and 2022 was a unique time for international movement.
Countries around the world were emerging from heavy lockdowns and travel restrictions enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps as a response to these restrictions easing, immigration numbers rose high above typical pre-pandemic levels, especially in the UK.
In fact, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that the year ending June 2022 saw record levels of migration from non-EU countries to the UK, with the total population having risen by around 504,000 during this period.
But what’s been driving these numbers? Delving deeper into the statistics released by the Home Office and the ONS shines a light on the reasons as to why people apply to come to the UK, which types of visas are the most popular for foreign migrants, and which world events are continuing to influence UK immigration statistics.
International Students and Study Visas
By far the largest category of visas granted to foreign nationals in the year ending June 2022 was study visas.
Approximately 486,868 study visas were successfully granted to applicants during this period, which brought the total number of international students in the UK to over 600,000. This is the highest figure that the UK has ever seen.
The UK’s enduring popularity as an international study destination has evidently not been affected by the pandemic. Factors influencing this particular form of migration may include an uptick in people returning to in-person tuition after the pandemic, or students who may have previously deferred entry to courses for the same reason.
General motivation among young people to travel in the wake of restrictions lifting may have also played an important factor, with resurgences in travel and tourism in the wake of the pandemic in general difficult to ignore when factoring in these statistics.
The UK has also widened opportunities for international students in the form of the new Graduate visa, introduced in 2021. This visa gives foreign students the opportunity to stay in the UK and take up employment for up to three years after completing their studies, which may serve to entice a greater number of students to the UK, even if many may not take advantage of that specific visa route. Prior to this, the only way for international students to stay in the UK would have been to continue with postgraduate qualifications or apply for other visa categories after graduating.
Prevailing throughout all of this is the UK’s generally well-regarded international reputation for higher education, which has consistently placed the UK as one of the most popular countries in the world for international students, beaten out only by the USA.
Unlike study visas, Family visas are mostly issued by the UK government to those who intend to settle in the UK long-term. These visas are given to those who have some sort of family link to an individual living in the UK, such as British citizens or those with indefinite leave to remain. The Home Office also includes those who come to the UK as dependents on other visas as part of this category.
As one of the most common ways for foreign nationals to settle in the UK, Family visa applications have always been reasonably popular, and this is reflected in the statistics. 303,553 visas in this category were granted in the year ending June 2022 – a 90% increase from the previous year.
The sharp spike in applications can once again be attributed to the global pandemic and the general lessening of restrictions and international movement. There has also been a significant backlog of applications that were either not processed or deferred due to the pandemic, which may also skew the numbers to be higher than average.
We can also see which specific types of Family visas were most popular in this year, with applicants applying as dependents of those on other visas being the biggest category by far. Around 226,443 applications were granted in this category.
Most temporary and long-term visas allow their holders to bring relatives to the UK, so it’s unsurprising that this sub-category of permits would be the frontrunner in terms of number of visas granted. Dependents of those on Skilled Worker and study visas made up the majority of these applications, making up more than half of all visas granted, with a combined total of 181,079 applications granted.
EU Settlement Scheme Applications
One of the newest routes to permanent settlement in the UK is also the second most popular. Around 40,602 EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) applications were granted in the year ending June 2022, with the third-most popular category, spouse/partner applications, seeing 25,841 applications granted.
In the wake of Brexit and the end of free movement between the UK and the EU, the EUSS remains the main way in which EU citizens who were resident in the UK can retain their right to abode. What’s particularly notable is the 62% rise of EUSS applications from the previous year, which can be attributed to the formal deadline for the scheme on 30 June 2021 and heightened awareness of the scheme itself.
It has been previously suggested by studies conducted by the Migration Observatory that the EUSS has suffered from a general lack of public awareness or understanding of the need to apply from eligible citizens. Mitigating factors include the fact that many EU citizens may be unaware of the need to now register their immigration status in the UK, a reliance on individuals having to come forwards to file an application of their own volition, and the difficulty in contacting all eligible citizens directly, or knowing who has not yet applied.
Therefore, the sharp rise in applications for EUSS permits in this year perhaps indicates a stronger and more consistent awareness of the need to apply for the scheme, which may then see a drop-off in the following year’s statistics given the passing of the main deadline.
Work also accounts for a significant portion of immigration to the UK, being the third-most popular visa category after study and Family visas. In the year ending June 2022, 222,349 work visas were granted, which represents a 96% increase from 2019.
UK Work visas can broadly be categorised into a small handful of categories. The most popular category is the Worker category, which includes visas such as the Health and Care Worker visa and the Skilled Worker visa, which is the UK’s general work visa for the most common industries and professions.
There were 222,349 applications under the Worker category granted in this year total, which accounts for around two-thirds of all work visa applications. The reasons for the Worker category being the most popular work visa category by far are self-evident. For instance, the Skilled Worker visa caters for the broadest range of potential applicants looking to work in the UK, in contrast to many other work visas having a far more narrow focus. The Skilled Worker visa remains as the “default” choice for foreign workers looking to work in the UK.
The Health and Care Worker visa, meanwhile, remains at the heart of controversies surrounding the shortage of staff in the NHS and care sectors. As noted in a parliamentary report published on 9 December 2022, factors such as increased job pressures, concerns over pay and loss of EU staff in the wake of Brexit has led to a significant increase in vacancies across the NHS.
Whether or not these vacancies are primarily responsible for the increase in applications for visas such as the Health and Care Worker visa remain to be seen. However, the fact that the Health and Care Worker has frequently outranked the general Skilled Worker visa in terms of applications granted highlights the continued importance and emphasis on recruiting new staff for the NHS and care systems across the UK.
The second-most common category was Temporary Worker visa applications, which represents six separate visas that each target specific sectors or professions. 72,526 Temporary Work visas were granted in the year ending June 2022, with the Seasonal Worker visa making up more than half of all Temporary Worker applications.
The Seasonal Worker visa was initially introduced as a pilot programme in 2019 as a way to help deal with shortages in seasonal horticultural work in the UK. This then became a formal visa route in 2021, set to run until 2024 when the visa route will be assessed by the government.
As a means to keep up with increasing demand in seasonal plant, produce and poultry sectors, the Seasonal Worker visa route has been increasingly popular since its introduction. Annual visa quotas rose from 2,500 visas in 2019 to 40,000 in 2022, and may be set to rise again in 2023.
This visa route is a part of the government’s new food strategy, which focuses on maintaining sustainability, access and reliability in the UK’s food supply. The loss of many EU citizens working in these sectors after Brexit has meant that this particular visa route has seen significant amounts of growth in the past few years, which should continue through to 2024 as food shortages and supply issues continue to be a presence in UK supermarkets.
Over the past year, the most notable external influences on UK immigration has been the war in Ukraine.
The mass displacement of Ukrainian nations into Europe has been considerable. According to figures from the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration, around 8.1 million Ukrainians have been displaced as a result of the conflict, which represents around 20% of the total population.
The UK’s response was to introduce new visa concession schemes for those directly impacted by the conflict. These include two new immigration schemes in March 2022 specifically for Ukrainian nationals. The Ukraine Family Scheme allows Ukrainian nationals to join existing family members in the UK, while the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme allows Ukrainian nationals to come to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. There is also the Ukraine Extension Scheme, which is for Ukrainian nationals to extend their current or previous permission in the UK.
There were 146,379 applications made to these two schemes in total in the year ending June 2022. In contrast, only 44,158 applications were made by Ukrainian nationals for other pre-existing visa routes to the UK.
Ukrainian Migration to Other European Countries
Only around 1.8% of Ukrainian refugees have chosen to come to the UK after leaving Ukraine as a result of the conflict. This relatively low number can be attributed to a couple of factors.
In March 2022, the EU granted temporary protection status to any Ukrainian nationals who have been displaced as a result of the war. This means that rather than having to apply for asylum, they can be granted temporary immigration status in any one of the EU member states.
This highlights the UK’s reasonably restrictive approach to accepting Ukrainian refugees compared to the EU’s. For instance, refugees travelling to EU countries do not need to have existing family links or valid sponsorship in order to cross into their destination country. Furthermore, they do not need to file an application and wait for approval before doing so. The UK, however, generally requires both of these things to apply for any Ukrainian refugees to legally enter the UK.
Additionally, it’s important to consider the pre-existing Ukrainian diaspora prior to the conflict. It is strongly expected that refugees are more likely to travel to countries where they know they can receive support or integrate into communities of the same nationality. As Italy, Czechia and Germany have each already had a significant Ukrainian population prior to the war, it stands to reason that they have also taken in some of the largest numbers of Ukrainian refugees. The UK is correspondingly low in each of these metrics by comparison.
Given the volatile and unpredictable nature of the Ukrainian conflict, the future of Ukrainian immigration to the UK in the near future, as well as how statistics may fluctuate, remains to be uncertain.
Asylum Seekers and Protection in the UK
The last major category of people immigrating to the UK is those who seek some form of protection in the UK, such as people seeking asylum, those in need of humanitarian protection, alternative forms of leave or resettlement.
In the year ending June 2022, there were 63,089 protection applications made in the UK. This figure is not only a notable 77% increase from pre-pandemic levels in 2019, but is also the highest number of applications since 2003.
Of these applications, 15,684 were granted some form of formal protection in the UK, with the vast majority of approved applications being as a result of making an asylum claim.
There are a couple of notes to consider when reviewing these statistics. Firstly, these do not take into account numbers from the Afghanistan Citizens Resettlement Scheme or Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, which opened to applicants in January 2022 and April 2021, respectively.
Secondly, the figures for people who have been granted protection such as asylum only take into account grants that were made in the initial review process. As some applications from those who seek asylum are subsequently granted when taken to an appeals process after a refusal, it’s likely that the final figure of asylum granted to foreign nationals will be higher than represented here.
Many asylum seekers claim asylum as a result of fleeing conflicts, or from fear of being persecuted in their home country, so may not come to the UK using standard methods of immigration. It’s important to consider that despite the current UK immigration system being closely controlled and monitored, actual numbers on how many asylum seekers and people seeking protection come to the UK every year may only be estimates, particularly concerning how many people are currently entering the UK in small boats from Northern France.
There has been significant upheaval in the UK immigration system over the past few years, what with the global pandemic, Brexit, and increasingly restrictive laws on immigration from the current UK government.
What these statistics show, however, is that historic reasons for immigration to the UK are, and will remain, consistent as time goes on. The UK has long been a destination for immigrants seeking new opportunities for work or study, and to start a new life with family members. Current world events will also mean that the UK continues to see thousands of applications for asylum from a range of locations, as it becomes more and more imperative for certain groups of people to seek a safe country they can reside in.
These enduring motivations for international immigration will see population numbers in the UK swell and shift as people become more mobile and new pathways for immigration, such as the Seasonal Worker visa route, continue to be introduced in response to changing demands.
While we can use data from past years to predict trends and changes for future years, unforeseen circumstances on the international stage may well require the UK to adapt and change approaches to immigration. How drastically things will change in the years to come remains to be seen.
How Can IAS Help?
If you’re thinking about immigrating to the UK, whether it be for work, study, family, or if you wish to explore options as to how to settle in the UK permanently, IAS can help.
We are professional, expert immigration lawyers who can assist with a wide range of legal and immigration issues. Whether you’re unsure about which type of UK visa would be right for you, want to enquire about how to obtain indefinite leave to remain in the UK, or if you wish to use our document and application checking service to ensure that your application is as accurate and complete as possible, we can assist.
We can also help if you’re an asylum seeker who needs help with asylum applications or humanitarian protection claims for you and your family. Regardless of whether you’ve been displaced because of an ongoing conflict or need protection from persecution for reasons of race, religion, political opinion or membership of a particular social group, we can help.
Don’t hesitate to call one of our advisers and book an advice session with our trusted legal professionals today. Call us on 0333 305 9375, or contact us online to learn more about what we could do for you.
Last modified on March 20th, 2023 at 11:09 am
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