A record 321,000 visas were issued for migrants to work in the UK in the year to June as employers scrambled to recruit from overseas amid ongoing labor shortages, according to official figures.
The Home Office data showed how reliant the UK remains on foreign workers 2 1/2 years after the post-Brexit immigration regime came into force. The number of work visas issued was 45% more than a year earlier.
Over a third of the total, 121,290, were “health and care” visas – a 157% increase in the previous year – as the UK struggled to meet the staffing needs of the National Health Service and care providers. Indian and Nigerian nationals accounted for the largest share.
With employers unable to fill over a million jobs, the government has responded by expanding the shortage occupation list, its visa rule exemption system, to make it easier to bring workers into the country.
However, soaring migration numbers have become a political headache for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak given the promises the Conservative government made to control Britain’s borders after the 2016 referendum that put Britain on a path out of the European Union.
In 2022, net migration hit a record 606,000. The Home Office visa figures are not comparable as they include short-term workers and do not include emigration.
One cause of last year’s surge in migration was an increase in student visas. Foreign student numbers jumped once again, by 23% in the year to June to 498,626, largely accounted for by Indian and Chinese nationals.
Another issue has been dependent visas, for family members of workers and students. They almost doubled to 372,000 in the latest figures. Workers brought in 218,000 dependents and students 154,000.
Including dependents, the number of visas granted to foreign workers and students was 1.2 million in the year to June – up from 820,000 a year earlier.
To lower numbers, the Home Office said in May it planned to prevent international students bringing family with them unless they are on postgraduate courses designated as research programs.
“These are damning figures and a stark reminder of the scale of the government’s failure to control, let alone reduce, immigration,” said Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, a pressure group.
“No doubt the public will bear this lamentable performance in mind when it comes to the next election.”
Separate figures from the Department for Work and Pensions showed foreigners who registered for a national insurance number, to work or study in the UK, jumped to 1.1 million in the year to June, up from 880,000 to the highest since records began in 2002.
Outside the EU
All but 130,000 of those were from outside the EU, underscoring the striking change in the migrant workforce since the UK was a member of the bloc.
Jonathan Portes, professor of economics at King’s College London, said: “The big picture is that the post-Brexit migration system continues to drive two shifts; from EU to non-EU migration; and from sectors which benefited from free movement, to sectors where workers qualify under the new system.”
“Overall, this means migration is likely to be higher skilled and higher paid; but also less flexible, market-oriented and responsive to demand. The longer-term impact on the health of the UK economy remains uncertain.”