The first year of the UK’s new post-Brexit immigration system has seen a large increase in the number of visas issued to non-EU migrants.
In 2021, 843,538 people from outside the EU were granted visas to live, work and study in the UK, according to Home Office figures, 107,000 more than in 2019.
The figures include a record number of student visas, with 416,250 granted to study in the UK. Bespoke visa schemes for people from Hong Kong and for Afghan refugees were also factors in the rise.
Of the 97,000 Hongkongers granted a visa under the British National Overseas scheme, 75,897 were issued last year.
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said the trends revealed by the figures were expected: “The post-Brexit immigration system is more liberal for non-EU citizens than the one that preceded it, so it’s no surprise to see an increase in visas granted for work and study.
“There are more people coming in on skilled work visas in particular, where numbers are mostly driven by overseas health workers. But the biggest contributor to higher visa grants for non-EU citizens in 2021 is actually the scheme for British Nationals Overseas status holders from Hong Kong, which isn’t directly related to Brexit.
“There aren’t yet any reliable figures for immigration of EU citizens, but they make up a very small share of visas in 2021. One consequence of the post-Brexit immigration system is likely to be that a much higher share of immigration to the UK will be people from outside the EU.”
Some 210,396 work visas were granted last year, of which 137,507 were for skilled workers and 48,345 for temporary workers, according to analysis of the figures by the Migration Observatory.
Campaign group for lower immigration Migration Watch UK, based in the right-wing think-tank hotspot of Tufton Street, London, said the growth in non-EU migrants under post-Brexit immigration rules contradicted pledges by the government to reduce the number of people coming to the UK.
Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said the country was seeing “the opposite of what the government promised in 2019”, that the public had been “duped”.
The rise in student visas was triggered by the reintroduction of the graduate visa route, which allows graduates to remain in UK for at least two years after finishing their degrees. It had been scrapped when Theresa May was prime minister but brought back last year.
Previous migration statistics from the Home Office this year include the finding that two-thirds of the UK’s seasonal worker visa holders issued in 2021 went to Ukrainian workers, raising questions about the potential impact of conflict in Ukraine on recruitment to British farms.
After Indian nationals, Ukrainians were the second most common nationality among people granted UK work visas in 2021, almost exclusively as a result of the seasonal worker visa. Almost 20,000 seasonal worker visas were granted to Ukrainian nationals, 67% of the total.
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