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What the Latest Home Office Immigration Statistics Tell Us About the State of UK Immigration

The Home Office has just released its latest quarterly national statistics on immigration for the year ending June 2020, which show the impact of COVID-19 on migrants entering and departing the UK. In this article, we will review what the numbers tell us about the state of UK immigration, and, in particular, the real impact of the pandemic on migrants.

The Clear Impact Of COVID-19 On Overall UK Immigration Numbers

One statistic shows the true impact of COVID-19 perhaps more than all of the others; while around 103.2 million people arrived in the UK (including visitors) in the year up to June 2020, there was a 97% drop in numbers (27.7m passengers) in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same quarter in 2019. This was a direct result of the COVID-19 worldwide travel restrictions.

The statistics also show that around 2.1 million visas were granted in the year ending June 2020, nearly one third lower than the previous year. These visas were broken down as follows:

  • Visit visas: 72%
  • Tier 4 study visas: 12% (long-term study)
  • Tier 2 & 5 work visas: 7%
  • Family visas: 2%
  • Other reasons: 7%

How Were UK Work Visas Affected By COVID-19?

As expected, there was a sizeable fall in work visas issued by the Home Office when compared to the previous year. The Home Office’s summary of the latest statistics confirms that there were 144,938 work-related visas granted (this includes visas for dependants) during the 12 months leading to the end of June 2020. This was 22% lower than the previous 12 months. The analysis by the Home Office explains, “…the fall was particularly driven by Skilled (Tier 2) work visas, which account for 60% of work-related visas and decreased by 20% to 87,044. Grants of Tier 2 visas had previously been at the highest level on record, however, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a fall in the year ending June 2020. There were also falls in the number of grants of Youth mobility and temporary worker (Tier 5) visas, down 22% to 33,672, Non-PBS work visas, down 25% to 20,826, and Tier 1 visas, down 42% to 3,396 – these were all affected by the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The economic impact on migrant workers (and their families) planning to come to the UK and also on employers reliant on those individuals can only be imagined. The numbers suggest that this has been likely felt by those reliant on all work visa categories including skilled, temporary, investors and entrepreneurs, and youth mobility applicants.

An ‘annus horribilis’ For Students and UK Educational Establishments

In the words of Queen Elizabeth II from 1992, the year to June 2020 has been something of an annus horribilis (Latin for ‘horrible year’) for the British education sector. While it is true that there were 255,776 study visas granted, a 1% increase on the prior year, there was a 99% fall in Tier 4 visas granted by the Home Office in the second quarter of 2020 due to COVID-19. The numbers show that students from China received the most amount of study visas (34% of the total issued), but this was down 19% on the previous year as a direct result of COVID-19.

In addition, Indian nationals issued with a UK study visa more than doubled compared to the previous year.

The sector has received some more positive news in recent weeks as statistics from the University clearing service, UCAS, show numbers of Chinese, Hong Kong, and Indian students offered places on courses for the 2020/21 academic year are as high as ever. As reported in the Times, “Universities have so far accepted 8,570 Chinese students, an increase of 14 per cent on the 7,490 with places on the same day last year, according to data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). This figure has more than doubled since 2015. The next biggest group was students from Hong Kong, with 3,340, an increase from 3,010 in 2019, followed by India with 2,680 students, up from 2,430 last year”.

It is hoped these place offers will convert to enrolments, and allow UK universities and other learning establishments to recover from COVID-19.

Migrant Families Hit Hard By COVID-19

The Home Office statistics show that the number of family visas issued (154,257) was 9% down on the previous year, but the number for the last quarter of the year fell by 90%. In terms of the type of visas being issued, the summary explains that “there were falls in family-related visas granted (down 8% to 45,350) and dependants of people coming to the UK on other types of visas (down 10% to 66,663)”.

Given that the COVID-19 lockdown resulted in UKVI and UKVCAS offices being closed in the UK and around the world, it is not surprising that there was such a large drop in family visas being issued. It must be remembered that behind every application which has been delayed due to COVID-19, there are partners, children, and family members who are unable to make their journey to the UK to start a new life, or be reunited with their loved ones.

Final Words

While the latest statistics from the Home Office show a lower number of visas being issued overall, it should be remembered that these numbers reflect the whole 12 months to the end of June 2020, only approximately four months of which have been impacted by COVID-19. The numbers next year depicting a full year of COVID-19 are likely to be even more striking.

That said, many more visa and biometric processing offices are open than was the case at the height of the first wave of the pandemic which will aid the processing of new and backlogged applications. Unfortunately, despite the processing of visas resuming, immigration will continue to be impacted by COVID-19 due to the ongoing travel restrictions, potentially until a vaccine is finally available.


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