Why do people come to the UK? To work
Updated 24 September 2020
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Data relate to the year ending June 2020, and all comparisons are with the year ending June 2019, unless indicated otherwise.
Some data relate to the second quarter of 2020 – 01 April to 30 June 2020. All comparisons are with the same period in 2019, unless indicated otherwise.
On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic. A range of restrictions relating to the outbreak began on 12 March 2020, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against all non-essential overseas travel on 17 March 2020, and advised all British travellers to return to the UK on 23 March 2020, the same day as the UK lockdown measures were announced.
Restrictions were put in place across Europe and other parts of the world in the run up to the UK outbreak, which will also have impacted travel to the UK prior to these dates. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the UK immigration system, both in terms of restricting migrant movements to and from the UK and the impact on operational capacity.
Year ending comparisons that follow will reflect the restrictions in place during this period of the pandemic.
This section contains data for non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals on:
- Work-related visas, including Skilled (Tier 2) work visas
- Sponsored work visa applications from different economic sectors
1. Immigration for work
There were 144,938 work-related visas granted (including dependants) in the year ending June 2020, 22% lower than the previous year. 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 High value (Tier 1) visas, down 42% to 3,396 – these were all affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Figure 1: Work-related visas granted, by visa type, years ending June 2011 to June 2020
Source: Entry clearance visa applications and outcomes: Vis_D02
- Non-PBS visas are not included in the chart.
- ‘Tier 1 (closed routes)’ includes the ‘Tier 1 – General’, ‘Tier 1 – Post study’, ‘Tier 1 – Entrepreneur’, ‘Tier 1 – Graduate entrepreneur’ and ‘Tier 1 – Exceptional talent’ categories. These routes are not included in the ‘Tier 1 (High value)’ category in the chart.
Table 1: Work-related visas granted, by visa type, year ending June 2019 and year ending June 2020
|Visa type||YE June 2019||YE June 2020||Change||Percentage change|
|Skilled (Tier 2)||108,368||87,044||-21,324||-20%|
|Youth mobility and temporary workers (Tier 5)||43,081||33,672||-9,409||-22%|
|High value (Tier 1)||5,843||3,396||-2,447||-42%|
Source: Entry clearance visa applications and outcomes – Vis_D02
- The ‘Non-PBS work’ category includes routes such as European Community Association Agreement (ECAA) businessperson, domestic workers in private households, UK Ancestry visas and pre-PBS routes that are now closed.
According to Labour Force Survey estimates from April to June 2020 published in the ONS ‘Labour market overview, UK: August 2020’ release, there were 1.27 million non-EU nationals working in the UK, 19,000 fewer than a year earlier.
There were an estimated 29.5 million UK nationals working in the UK, 422,000 more than a year earlier. At the same time, there were 2.06 million EU nationals working in the UK, 312,000 fewer than a year earlier.
1.1 Skilled (Tier 2) Work
In the year ending June 2020, there was a 20% fall in Skilled (Tier 2) work visas granted (down 21,324 to 87,044). Tier 2 visa grants had previously been at the highest level on record, due to a steady rise in grants in the ‘Tier 2 – General’ and ‘Tier 2 – Dependant’ categories from July 2018, when doctors and nurses were removed from the Tier 2 visa cap. However, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that previous increases were counteracted by a 96% fall in Tier 2 grants in the second quarter of 2020, compared to a year earlier, leading to a fall in grants for the year ending June 2020 as a whole.
Almost all of the fall was accounted for by a decrease in grants of Tier 2 ‘Intra-company transfer’ visas, which decreased by 38% (21,227) to 33,971 in the year ending June 2020. While much of this decline is as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it follows falls over the last few quarters.
Grants of ‘Tier 2 – General’ and ‘Tier 2 – Dependant’ visas were stable in the year ending June 2020. Previous increases in grants in these categories were counteracted by large falls in the latest quarter. In the second quarter of 2020, grants of Tier 2 – General visas were down 93% compared with the same period in 2019, while grants of Tier 2 – Dependant visas were down 94%.
Indian nationals account for almost half (48%) of all Tier 2 visas granted, but their number of grants decreased by a quarter (25%) to 42,196 in the year ending June 2020. There were increases in Tier 2 grants for nationals of the Philippines (up 894 or 19%), Nigeria (up 512 or 17%) and Egypt (up 204 or 10%).
Table 2: Top 51 nationalities granted Skilled (Tier 2) Work visas, year ending June 2019 and year ending June 2020
|Nationality||YE June 2019||YE June 2020||Change||Percentage change|
Source: Entry clearance visa applications and outcomes – Vis_D02
- Top 5 nationalities in the most recent year.
- ‘Other nationalities’ includes those that do not feature in the top 5 in the latest year.
In the year ending September 2019 (the latest available data – see ‘About these statistics’ for details), there were 63,510 certificates of sponsorship applications for Tier 2 work. There was a 72% increase in applications in the ‘Human health and social work activities’ sector in the year ending September 2019, following the removal of doctors and nurses from the Tier 2 cap.
Five sectors accounted for 87% of sponsored Tier 2 work visa applications:
- Information and communication (19,740, 31%)
- Human health and social work activities (15,348, 24%)
- Professional, scientific and technical activities (10,154, 16%)
- Financial and insurance activities (6,616, 10%)
- Education (3,639, 6%)
- Other (8,013, 13%)
1.2 Other work-related visas
In the year ending June 2020, there was a 42% (2,447) decrease in High value (Tier 1) visas granted, to 3,396. While much of this decline is as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it follows falls over the last few quarters, driven by a decrease in ‘Entrepreneur’ and ‘Investor’ visas, following a change in policy reflecting advice from the Migration Advisory Committee on the Tier 1 (Investor) route Investment thresholds and economic benefits.
There was a 22% decrease in Youth mobility and temporary worker (Tier 5) visas granted in the year ending June 2020, to 33,672. Previously, the number of grants in this category was increasing, due to the introduction of the ‘Seasonal Workers Pilot’ scheme in March 2019. However, substantial falls in the latest quarter due to COVID-19 led to an overall decrease in Tier 5 grants in the year ending June 2020.
Tier 5 ‘Seasonal Workers’ visas were the only category of work visa where grants were not reduced by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were 4,146 Seasonal Workers visas granted in the year ending June 2020, twice the amount granted in the previous year (up 2,077, or 100%). Of those granted a visa on the Seasonal Workers Pilot in the year ending June 2020, 94% were Ukrainian nationals.
The ‘Youth mobility’ route was the largest of all Tier 5 routes, accounting for 44% (14,707) of the total. More than 4 in 5 (82%) Youth mobility visas were granted to nationals of three countries – Australia (49%), New Zealand (17%) and Canada (16%).
1.3 The impact of COVID-19
The Home Office published a separate report on 28 May 2020, which provided a statistical overview of COVID-19 impacts on the immigration system through to the end of April 2020. However, there are further changes visible in the period to the end of June 2020.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all visa application centres were closed by 31 March 2020. They began gradually reopening from June 2020. As a result, visa application and grant numbers were much lower than usual in the second quarter of 2020 (April to June).
In the second quarter of 2020, the overall number of Work visa applications was 89% lower than the same period in 2019.
At the same time, the number of work visas issued fell by 88%. There were less than 10 Work visa applications and grants in April and May 2020. This began to recover in June, with 6,221 Work visa applications and 6,536 grants. Of these, over half were for Tier 5 – Seasonal Workers visas.
Figure 2: Number of work-related visas granted, by month, January to June, 2019 and 2020
Source: Entry clearance visa applications and outcomes – Vis_D02 and underlying data
2. About these statistics
The statistics in this section provide an indication of the number of people who have an intention to enter the UK for work reasons. This includes both highly-skilled non-EEA workers, investors and entrepreneurs, temporary workers, and those employed in sports, the arts and other sectors.
Entry clearance visas allow an individual to enter and stay in the UK within the period for which the visa is valid. EEA nationals do not require a visa to enter the UK.
Data in this section refer to the number of Entry clearance visas granted for work reasons within the period. If an individual was granted a visa more than once in a given period, this has been counted as multiple grants in the statistics. If an individual entered the UK multiple times within the period for which a visa was valid, this has been counted as one grant in the visa statistics.
The data do not show whether, or when, an individual arrived in the UK, what they did on arrival to the UK, or how long they stayed in the UK.
Year-on-year comparisons of the number of decisions can be affected by quarterly fluctuations in the data. These fluctuations can be examined in the quarterly data available in the published tables.
2.1 Tier 1 (High value)
Tier 1 of the PBS was phased in between February and June 2008 as a general route. However, from 2010, Tier 1 has focused on providing visas for ‘High value’ migrants only, including the exceptional talent route, investors and entrepreneurs.
The Tier 1 Entrepreneur route was closed to most new applicants in March 2019 and replaced by the non-PBS Innovator route.
The Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur route was closed to new applicants in July 2019 and replaced by the non-PBS Start-up route.
The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route was closed to new applicants in February 2020 and replaced by the non-PBS Global Talent route.
2.2 Tier 2 (Skilled)
Tier 2 of the PBS is the primary route for economic migration to the UK. Broadly, the route is for skilled workers from outside the EEA who have an offer of employment in the UK in an occupation classed as skilled to NQF6 or above.
Tier 2 was implemented in November 2008. There are four routes within Tier 2: General, Intra-company transfer, Minister of religion and Sportsperson.
2.2 Tier 5 (Youth mobility and temporary workers)
Tier 5 (Youth mobility and temporary workers) was implemented in November 2008 to provide a route for those coming to the UK for primarily non-economic reasons.
The Tier 5 Seasonal workers route was open to new applicants from January 2019.
2.3 Certificate of sponsorship (CoS)
Due to changes to the casework system in October 2019, for 2019 quarter 4 and 2020 quarters 1 and 2 it has not been possible to break down the number of Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) used in ‘out of country’ (visa) applications or ‘in-country’ (extension) applications. As a result, the latest available data relate to the year ending September 2019. The issue will affect the data provided in tables CoS_D01 and CoS_D02. These statistics will be updated in due course.
Applicants for visas (and extensions) for Tier 2 (Skilled) work and for Tier 5 (Youth mobility and temporary worker) must obtain a certificate of sponsorship (CoS) from a registered employer. Any organisation that wishes to sponsor a worker must be registered on the Home Office’s Register of Sponsors.
Tier 2 (General) is currently subject to a cap on the number of CoSs that can be allocated to employers for newly-hired employees earning less than £159,600 per year, or for dependants of Tier 4 Students who wish to switch into the Tier 2 ‘General’ category. The sponsor must apply for an allocation for these ‘restricted’ CoSs on a case-by-case basis to be considered at a monthly allocation meeting held by the Home Office. Details of the outcome of the monthly allocation process are published by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). On 15 June 2018, the government announced that doctors and nurses are to be excluded from the cap on Skilled worker visas.
Further information about the CoS allocation process is given in the user guide and on the UK visa sponsorship for employers section of GOV.UK.
2.4 Other sources
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes long-term international migration (LTIM) estimates in its ‘Migration Statistics Quarterly Report’. The report includes estimates from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) on the number of people coming to the UK with the intention of staying for 12 months or more for work, study, family and other reasons. Estimates are available for EU, non-EU and British nationals. IPS data are not directly comparable with Home Office visa data for several reasons. See the ONS article ‘Comparing sources of international migration statistics’ for details.
3. Data tables
Data on immigration for work can be found in the following tables:
- Sponsorship summary tables
- Detailed sponsorship datasets
- Entry clearance visas summary tables
- Detailed Entry clearance visas datasets
- Admissions tables
- Extensions tables
- Detailed Extensions datasets
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