UK visas plummet amid pandemic travel bans

Pandemic travel lockdowns across the world saw the number of visas granted by the UK slump by 61 per cent during the year ending in June, according to official figures.

The Home Office revealed that 830,969 visas were granted over the 12 months - 35 per cent for study, 26 per cent to visitors, 21 per cent for work, six per cent for family, and the remainder for other reasons.Although the figures were the first since freedom of movement from the EU ended at the beginning of this year, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said that little could be read into them as far as post-Brexit European migration was concerned because of the effects of the pandemic on travel.The figures showed that, over the year, 172,045 work-related visas (including dependants) were granted, a 19 per cent increase on the year ending June 2020, but seven per cent fewer than in the previous 12 months."Skilled work, which accounts for 60 per cent of work-related visas granted, saw the largest increase in visa numbers, up 16,775 or 19 per cent," said the Home Office."High value, skilled worker, temporary worker and other work visas and exemptions routes all increased compared to the previous year. These increases will in part reflect recovery from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic."The new skilled worker routes introduced in late 2020 accounted for 55,053 or 32 per cent of the total work-related visas granted.In education, there were 281,008 sponsored study visas granted - a number which also included dependants - a ten per cent rise on the previous year and 11 per cent up on the 12 months to June 2019."Chinese nationals were the most common nationality granted Sponsored study visas in the year ending June 2021, accounting for 34 per cent of the total," said the Home Office.
The data also showed that 6.02 million applications by the end of June under the EU Settlement Scheme and that, over the year, there were 200,177 applications for British citizenship, a 35 per cent year-on-year rise.In an analysis of the figures published on Friday, Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, and researcher Peter William Walsh said the data gave the "first glimpse" of the new, post-Brexit immigration system."On December 31 2020, EU freedom of movement ended, with the UK entering a new national lockdown a few days later," they wrote."Economic turmoil and travel restrictions meant that one would expect many fewer people to use the system in the first quarter of 2021 than would otherwise have been the case. It is also possible that some EU citizens who planned to come to the UK would have done so before free movement ended, in order to avoid the cost and bureaucracy of the new system."As a result, it is perhaps not surprising that the number of EU citizens applying for UK visas in the first quarter after the end of free movement is relatively small."The analysis showed that in the first quarter of 2021, EU citizens made 1,075 applications for long-term skilled work visas, representing only five per cent of the total of 20,738 applications for these visas during the first quarter of the year.But the report pointed out that some EU citizens who might otherwise have applied for mainstream work visas, were eligible for ‘frontier worker permits’ which allowed workers who had previously done paid work in the UK under free movement but who were not resident, to return to the country for the same purpose."The importance of this category is likely to diminish over time, and more people coming to work in the UK for short periods will need another visa, such as an intra-company transfer visa," said the analysis.The report concluded that it was still too early to judge the impact the post-Brexit immigration system would have on both the numbers and characteristics of people coming to live or work in the UK."So far, applications from EU citizens under the new system have been very low and represent just a few percent of total demand for UK visas. However, it may take some time for potential applicants (or their employers) to become familiar with the new system and its requirements."And crucially, the first months of the system’s operation were very unusual, because of the pandemic, travel restrictions, and lockdown. Net EU migration to the UK was already thought to be very low during 2020 for these reasons."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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