Total of UK skill visas hits all-time high

New figures from the Home Office reveal migration records set in 2019. What are the most significant trends for non-EU and EU nationals?

uk skills visas students overseas
The number of work-related visas granted by the UK to non-EU nationals throughout 2019 reached the highest level in 12 years, with the total of skills visas issued hitting a new record, according to figures released by the Home Office on Thursday.And in a separate report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), covering the year ending September 2019, the number of people moving to the UK long-term from non-EU countries was estimated to be the highest on record.The ONS put net migration from outside the European Economic Area at 250,000, mainly driven by an increasing number of students, particularly from China and India, while EU net migration stood at 64,000, marginally up from the 57,000 recorded in the year to September 2018.

Different trends emerge in 2019

Jay Lindop, director of the Centre for International Migration at the ONS, says, "While long-term net migration, immigration and emigration have remained broadly stable since the end of 2016, different trends have emerged."EU net migration has fallen, while non-EU net migration has gradually increased since 2013 and is now at the highest level since 2004. Since 2016, immigration for work has decreased because of fewer EU citizens arriving for a job.

Study in the UK helping to drive change

"Meanwhile, immigration for study has gone up and is now the main reason for migration. This is driven by more non-EU students arriving, specifically Chinese and Indian."Separate data from the Home Office covering the 2019 calendar year showed that, including dependants, 193,517 work-related visas were granted, ten per cent higher than 2018."Most of the rise was accounted for through increases in grants of Skilled (Tier 2) work visas, which increased by 11 per cent to 113,958, the highest level on record. The Tier 2 category accounts for 59 per cent of work-related visas granted. However, there were also increases in the number of grants in all other work categories," says the Home Office.
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In 2019, there were also 285,508 Sponsored study (Tier 4) visas granted, a 19 per cent increase on 2018 and the highest level since the year ending June 2011.Chinese nationals were the most common nationality granted student visas in 2019, accounting for 42 per cent of the total, but the number of Indian nationals also surged with the number of Tier 4 visas granted up 93 per cent to 37,540 compared with 2018.The ONS report estimated that, in the year to last September, 240,000 more people moved to the UK with an intention to stay for 12 months or more, than left, with 642,000 arriving and 402,000 people leaving.

Why non-EU migration has increased

EU net migration has fallen since 2016, reported the ONS, although more EU citizens still arrive long-term than leave. "This is mostly driven by a decrease in those coming to the UK, alongside a gradual increase in the number of EU citizens leaving the UK over the same time period."The number of EU citizens coming to the UK for work-related reasons has decreased to the lowest level since 2004, driving the overall fall in immigration for work since 2016. The decrease was initially a result of fewer EU citizens coming to the UK looking for work; however, since 2018, the number of people arriving with a definite job has also fallen."The ONS added that non-EU migration had gradually increased since 2013 and was now at the highest level since 2004."This is because of an increase in those coming to the UK, now at the highest level on record, with the number of non-EU citizens leaving the UK over the same time period remaining broadly stable," the ONS reported."The increase since 2016 is mainly because of a gradual rise in the number of non-EU citizens coming to the UK for formal study; this is a trend reflected in all available data sources, with sponsored study visa applications for universities at the highest level on record."Since 2013, all available data sources have shown gradual increases in the number of non-EU citizens coming to the UK for work-related reasons."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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