Number of non-Europeans moving to UK for work soars as EU migrants plummet

The number of EU citizens migrating to the UK for work has collapsed while the number of people from non-EU countries gaining work visas has surged, according to the first Home Office study since Britain left the bloc and Covid-19 travel curbs were eased.

In the year to June a record 1.1mn visas were granted, including to students and family members, the Home Office said on Thursday. Of those, 331,233 were work-related, a rise of 72 per cent since 2019.

Of the migrants in the worker category previously known as “skilled worker”, 46 per cent or 102,981 were from India, up 80 per cent on 2019. Nigeria and the Philippines accounted for the second- and third-largest number of skilled migrants, with 15,772 and 12,825 visas granted respectively.

Only 12 per cent of skilled migrants arriving on new “worker” visas came from the European Economic Area — which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, as well as the EU — and Switzerland.

Prior to Brexit, EU nationals did not require work visas, but in 2015, before the referendum, 71 per cent of people migrating to the UK for work came from the bloc, according to Oxford university’s Migration Observatory.

The shift is in part explained by the sharp fall in the number of EU citizens moving to Britain to work in the NHS, with vacancies now largely filled by non-EU citizens. Just 2 per cent of new recruits to the health service were from the EU in the year to June.

The Home Office said the figures showed the highest number of work visas issued in any 12-month period since the data series began in 2005, and attributed this to the end of freedom of movement for EEA and Swiss nationals and the introduction of new work-related visa schemes.

“Non-EEA nationals granted work-related visas also rose by 55 per cent compared with 2019, with the increase partly reflecting the recovery from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on international travel,” it added.

The figures also showed marked changes in the origins of the limited number of low-skilled workers from outside the UK that are allowed entry.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, said: “Employers in sectors that used to rely heavily on EU citizens are often less familiar with the new system and in many cases the jobs they recruit for are simply no longer eligible.”

She added that “EU citizens may be finding the restrictions and costs in the new system unattractive”, while some employers, including in the agricultural sector, had begun recruiting non-EU workers “perhaps because they are more willing to work at the pay and visa conditions that are being offered”.

Ukraine remained the biggest recipient of visas issued under temporary worker schemes, with 14,127 of all grants. Since Russia’s invasion in February, however, nationals from other countries in eastern Europe and central Asia, led by Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, have received an increasing proportion of grants via these schemes.

Thursday’s figures did not account for EU citizens who may have had their long-term status in the UK settled during the past 12 months. But labour market figures last week from the Office for National Statistics showed an overall decline of 1 per cent to 2.18mn in the number of EU citizens working in the UK. Meanwhile, there had been a 20 per cent increase to 1.79mn in non-EU nationals working in the UK since 2021.

Overall, grants of temporary worker visas increased by 29,059 to 72,526, up 67 per cent compared with 2019, driven largely by seasonal workers.

However, the British Chambers of Commerce, a business network, said this still fell far short of what businesses needed.

It called on Thursday for an urgent review of the shortage occupation list — which determines the types of low-skilled workers that can access temporary visas — to help companies cope with record vacancies in the labour market and to bring down pressure on wages.

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