For the first time since 2006, the majority of people migrating to the UK for work are non-EU citizens.
This is according to a report published by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford which finds non-EU citizens accounted for 56% (95,000) of the 171,000 who relocated from overseas to work in 2019 to work in the UK, while 76,000 were EU nationals.
Prior to this, between 2007 and 2019, almost two-thirds of long-term migrant workers were EU citizens.
Chetal Patel, partner at law firm Bates Wells, said the figures for next year are likely to look significantly different when the UK’s new points-based immigration system is introduced.
“As we get closer to the end of the transition period and the launch of our new immigration system, one can expect the figures to look different this time next year when EU nationals will require a work visa,” she said.
“Due to the set up of the current immigration system, non-EU workers are most likely to be working in high-skilled roles compared to EU workers as EU nationals have been able to benefit from free movement and undertake any role irrespective of its skill level. This will all change when our new immigration system is launched in January next year when EU nationals will require a work visa to undertake a skilled role.”
Skilled workers were the largest recipients of work visas last year, with 63,000 of issued by the Home Office to non-EU citizens. Tier 2 visas made up 46% of all work visas issued, followed by Tier 5 visas – issued for temporary work purposes – which accounted for 30% of those issued.
Of the 49,000 skilled sponsored workers issued visas in the first three quarters of 2019, 31% were in the IT industry and 25% were in health and social work. The number of skilled workers sponsored by healthcare employers more than tripled, from 3,500 in full-year 2015 to 12,300 in the first three quarters of 2019 alone.
“In fact, the healthcare industry accounts for nearly all of the increase in Tier 2 workers between 2015 and Q3 2019. In Q3 2019 alone, Tier 2 visas for health and social workers (5,200) outstripped those for IT workers (4,900) for the first time in any quarter, accounting for an all-time high of 25% of Tier 2 visas,” the Work visas and migrant workers in the UK report says.
Non-EU born workers also accounted for a large proportion of employees who would be considered key workers: although they represented roughly a tenth of the UK labour force, they are overrepresented in occupations such as health professionals (23%), nurses and midwives (19%) and care jobs (16%).
Patel advised employers who intend to continue employing staff from overseas next year to prepare for the new immigration system now.
“A number of organisations that aren’t sponsor licence holders have already started preparing for the new immigration system by submitting sponsor licence applications and we can expect a spike in applications in the coming months,” she said.
“Some lower skilled roles that have been critical during the coronavirus pandemic will not meet the post Brexit skills threshold and this has caused much controversy.”
Indian nationals received the greatest proportion of the work visas issued, but Chinese citizens received the largest number of Tier 1 visas – issued to investors, entrepreneurs or those considered global leaders in their field – while Australians received the majority of the Youth Mobility Scheme visa allocation.