There has been much comment in the media recently regarding the current level of immigration in the UK. The Home Secretary made considerable reference to a desire to reduce net migration levels and even more recently the Prime Minister has commented that “Numbers are too high…I want to bring them down.” But such broad statements without analysis of the detail, may be rather unhelpful.
What are the headline figures?
Figures recently released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that net migration into the UK was 606,000 for 2022. This is made up of total long-term (intending to stay more than 12 months) immigration during this time of 1,109,000, minus 503,000 leaving the UK during the same period. The number of individuals entering the UK in these figures included approximately:
- 76,000 people seeking asylum in the UK.
- 114,000 people from Ukraine.
- 52,000 people from Hong Kong.
How statistically significant are work and study visas?
Trying to determine precise figures is effectively impossible because even the Office for National Statistics itself acknowledges that there are a number of estimates involved and that even across its own pages, the figures will not always add up to an identified total. However, in broad terms:
- Work-related visas constituted 41% of EU immigration
- Work-related visas constituted 25% of non-EU immigration (of which, 13% were main applicants and 12% were dependants)
- Study-related visas (which includes dependants) made up 26% of EU and 39% of non-EU immigration
Earlier figures from the government confirm that there were approximately 66,000 Skilled Worker visas granted and 77,000 “Skilled Worker - Health and Care” visas granted. This shows very clearly that the health and care sector (with its own special Skilled Worker visa category) is an enormous consumer of working visas.
How might the government reduce net migration?
A recent statement released by the Home Secretary has confirmed her intentions to first look at the Student visa route as a method for reducing the overall net migration number. The statement references that around 136,000 visas were granted to dependants of students and that therefore it is intended to remove the student-dependant visa route for almost all study courses. However, this appears currently to be the only proposed specific action that would have a direct impact on visa numbers.
Are changes being proposed for work visas?
There have been general comments from the government regarding whether a higher skill level should be required for working visas, but as yet no confirmation of any intended policy change in this regard. It is well-known that there is generally a shortage of workers across the UK and across many sectors, and therefore any attempt to restrict working visas is likely to carry a substantial risk of having a negative impact on the economy.
What challenges does the government face to reduce net migration?
Overall, having regard to the statistics, it is difficult to see how the government may be able to satisfactorily meet its stated, although somewhat vague, aim of lowering the net immigration figure without negatively impacting the economy. For working visas, it is clear that these individuals will be contributing to the economy through their activity and will be paying taxes. Student visa holders, too, contribute to the economy - with Universities UK recently publishing that international students may have a net contribution (i.e. after public services costs) of over £37 billion to the economy. It should also be remembered, of course, that both working visas and student visas come at a high cost, with not only the visa application fees but also the Immigration Health Surcharge (intended to cover the cost of any NHS usage) and for most working visas also the Immigration Skills Charge (which may be as much as £5,000 per application).
Will amending the visa system achieve the government’s objectives?
With over 60% of incoming migrants applying for either work or study visas, bringing about any significant reduction in net migration will be difficult without reducing demand for either of these. It will remain to be seen what the effect on student visa applications may be if the ability to bring dependants really is removed (at this stage it is only an intended policy statement - the Immigration Rules are not yet amended in any way). But with the economic contribution being made by student visa holders, it is not clear whether the government will really want to see a large reduction in visa applications. Similarly for working visas; demand by companies for migrant workers will remain high unless the UK resident labour force can provide sufficient numbers of individuals with the right skills for the roles. Achieving that will surely require a much wider approach than amending the visa system.
How 3CS can help
For further information on work visas, sponsor licences, or any other business immigration matter please contact a member of our team.