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Record number of UK Work Visas Granted in 2021

It is well known that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic put a considerable dent in the plans of many businesses in the UK and around the world in 2020. As a direct result, applications for visas fell across the board, whether for work, study, temporary, or other visa types. As we come to the end of 2021, the positive news is that for most visas, the number granted has bounced back not just above 2020 volumes but also above those seen in 2019. In this article, we will take a look at the latest figures from the Home Office showing that work visas have returned to normal levels, and in some cases, now exceed those seen before the pandemic.

How many work visas were granted in 2021?

The latest national statistics 1 published in November 2021 confirm that 205,528 work-related visas were granted by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) between September 2020 and September 2021. This represents a 55% increase on the previous year and a 9% increase on the year before that. As the report explains, “These increases will in part reflect recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Skilled work and Temporary work visas are now higher than pre-COVID 19 levels in the year ending September 2019”. It doesn’t explain why, but it is highly plausible that this increase is a direct response to Brexit and the ending of free movement, hence driving the need to use Visa based routes for overseas workers. This has undoubtedly skewed the figures, as where EU nationals were previously not included in visas numbers due to free movement, they are now.

Record number of Global Talent visas granted

In Home Office parlance, the Global Talent is one of a number of "high value" visas, including the Innovator and Start-up visa. The latest figures show that the number of Global Talent visas granted has now reached record levels, with 2,768 being granted in the year to September 2021, representing 50% of all high-value visas issued by UKVI. The third quarter saw 700 Global Talent visas granted, which is extremely high by precious measures and exceeds the total for many previous years.

Overall, the number of high-value visas granted was up nearly 40% on last year, but slightly down (-6%) on the year ending September 2019. The report states this is in part due to the steady fall in Entrepreneur visas; “Innovator visa grants have increased while Entrepreneur visas have fallen, continuing the trend following a change in policy reflecting advice from the Migration Advisory Committee on the Tier 1 (Investor) route Investment thresholds and economic benefits. The Innovator visa was introduced in April 2019 to replace the Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa. However, the combined grants of both these visas are still around a quarter (23%) lower in the latest year”.

The data also shows that the majority of people gaining Global Talent and other high-value visas in the UK are coming from non-EU countries, including India (17%), the USA (11%), and China (10%).

Skilled Work visas experiencing high demand

It is important to distinguish skilled work visas from skilled worker visas in the context of the data published by the government. Skilled work visas includes the old Tier 2 work visa, new Skilled worker visa, Skilled worker Health & Care visa, and Intra-company visas. For these visas combined, the number of successful applications rose by 57% to 126,017 between September 2020 and September 2021, and by 14% on the 2019 numbers. As the report explains, however, the majority of these were for the Skilled Worker and Health and Care visas. Interestingly, there was a fall in ICT visas of 14%, and this is a continuation of the same trend which started in 2016. This is likely, at least in part, behind the Home Office’s imminent revitalisation of the ICT visa scheme, with the new Global Mobility route expected in April 2022 2.

Again, looking at the data from the perspective of demographics, the majority of skilled work visas have been granted to nationals of India (42%), with 53,295 being issued; this represents a 47% increase on the previous year. This is followed by nationals of the Philippines with 8,925, Nigeria with 8,646, and the United States with 6,483 skilled work visas issued.

Temporary works visas also up on 2019

It comes as no real surprise that the number of temporary worker visas being granted is up on 2019 by 6%. Over half of these visas have been issued to temporary, seasonal workers, in no doubt partially driven by the ending of free movement. The announcement of additional temporary, seasonal visas for poultry workers, pork butchers, and HGV drivers by the government in the run-up to the end of 2021 has further increased demand. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Seasonal Worker visas have been granted to nationals of Ukraine; however, this is down from 86% last year. Most of the remainder were granted to Russian, Belarussian, and Moldovan nationals.

The latest data on work visas also shows that the second most popular temporary visa route in the UK is the Youth Mobility Scheme visa, representing 17% of the total number of temporary visas granted. This was, understandably, down on the previous year (by nearly 40%). Of the Youth Mobility Scheme visas granted, the majority went to nationals of Canada (23%), Australia (20%), and Japan (20%).

Final words

As is the nature of data, it can be difficult to understand the driving factors behind trends, but it is abundantly clear that the demand for most visas in 2021 has risen since the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brexit and the ending of free movement have also altered the dynamics of work and business immigration, driving up demand for visas in a number of categories. With the changes to immigration policies coming in 2022 (including the new global mobility route) and the hopeful further easing of the negative impacts of the pandemic, it will be interesting to see whether the trends we have looked at here will continue and whether the new visa schemes will prove a success in drawing the talent and skills the UK urgently needs.

For expert assistance with a work visa or any other immigration matter, contact Reiss Edwards, immigration lawyers and solicitors in London, on 020 3744 2797 or by email at


1 Home Office: Why do people come to the UK? To work

2 GOV.UK: Points-based immigration system: delivering on people’s priorities

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