New figures show the extent to which UK businesses are turning to talent in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to plug their skills gaps.
According to the results of a freedom of information request from law firm Eversheds Sutherland and analysis of Home Office data, the past two years have an increase of 115% in south Asian skilled worker applications, with 15,731 applications in the second quarter of 2022 compared with 7,327 in the second quarter of 2019.
In addition, there was a rise in sub-Saharan African skilled worker applications from 948 to 6,579 between the same two quarters.
Health workers made up a large proportion of the influx with 6,139 south Asian workers accepting posts in the second quarter of 2022 and 1,386 in the equivalent period in 2019. Similar numbers of sub-Saharan Africa workers (5,130) accepted a role in the UK in the same period of 2022 compared with 471 in the 2019 equivalent.
There was a 6% rise in IT professionals from south Asia between the two quarters with 4,028 accepting UK jobs.
Overall, skilled worker visa applications rose to 35,000 in the second quarter of 2022, with health and IT workers being most in demand. Health and social work saw its largest ever number of skilled worker visa applications with near 15,000 being made in the second quarter of this year against 11,139 in the first quarter. South Asia accounted for most applications (6,139) followed by sub Saharan Africa (5,130) and south-east Asian countries (2,112).
After health, the information and communications sector was the next largest source of candidates, with 4,028 of the 5,395 second quarter applications coming from south Asia. The quarter was also notable in this sector for a spike in IT professionals from Russia (139 as opposed to 56 in the first quarter of 2022).
Predictably, given Brexit and the loss of freedom of movement, there were far fewer EU workers making skilled worker applications with 3,243 in the second quarter of this year, compared with 3,698 in the third quarter of 2021.
There was a 7% increase from the first quarter of 2022 to the second in the professional, scientific and technical sector with 4,020 applications against 3,748.
In the financial and insurance industry there was a rise to 2,869 in the second quarter of 2022 from 2,194 in the first, with most talent being sourced from India (845), the US (241) and France (164).
Audrey Elliott, partner in employment and immigration at Eversheds Sutherland, said more businesses were viewing obtaining a sponsor licence “as an essential part of their business plan. As part of the sponsor process they must embed compliance tasks for immigration, such as changes to pre-employment right to work checks, into their processes and systems. A good immigration strategy is now vital to every successful business.”
Other law firms offering immigration services have conducted research that shows similar trends. A Y & J Solicitors’ show that the number of UK businesses employing skilled workers from overseas has risen by 64% in two years, judging by the increase in companies holding sponsor licences to employ migrant workers on skilled worker visas.
However, said Yash Dubal, director at A Y & J, despite the increase in sponsor licences, only a small minority of UK employers were still currently able to fill vacancies with overseas workers, with just 3.4% able to employ migrant workers on the most popular visa route, despite acute labour shortages across many business sectors.
He added: “The rise in businesses who are looking overseas to fill labour gaps is significant and a result of Brexit and the manpower shortages in the UK. Businesses now have to be licenced to employ any overseas workers, not just those from outside the UK to the rise was to be expected. However, the historic levels of staff vacancies that firms are experiencing have forced more to look overseas for staff.
“The skills pool is global now and firms no longer just compete within the UK for talent. In order to stay competitive, they need to look internationally.”