Latest Immigration Statistics: Is the New System Actually Working?

September 13, 2023

The Home Office published its quarterly data regarding employment-based immigration at the end of last week, which often indicates trends in immigration applications.  This encompasses applications through to March 2022 so includes three quarters in the UK in which there were only minor restrictions on travel caused by the pandemic.  A better comparator in respect of the trends regarding this is to look at the immigration applications made in the quarter to March 2020.

Based on the statistics and reasonable comparators, there are good indications that the simplification of the Immigration Rules in December 2020 is starting to result in far more applications being made.  Some observations on the data are:

Skilled Worker and GMB intra company applications are increasing quickly.

Combined visa and leave to remain applications in these categories increased 46% year-on-year from March 2021, which might be expected due to pandemic-related restrictions, but there is a 60% increase on the same period in March 2020 too.  This is borne out by the increase of 9,000 (31%) in the number of sponsors too – very notable in a category which seldom shows much movement. More sponsors are making more employment-based immigration applications post-Brexit, either because they must, or because the simplification of the Immigration Rules in December 2020 has enabled them to do so.

Global Talent is attracting many more applicants too.

Just over 7,000 main applicants for visa or permission to stay applied in this category since Q1 2020, of whom around 1,300 did so in the last quarter. The number of such applications was in double figures per quarter as recently as 2018, so this is increasing even more quickly than the sponsored worker categories. There are more applications from within the UK than outside, suggesting many applicants are switching directly from Skilled Worker or Student status. The excellent material produced by the endorsing bodies to simplify what otherwise seems a complicated process may have contributed to this.  I have seen a significant increase in interest from academic staff in the category too such as early-stage postdoctoral researchers whose short-term contacts are not well served by the sponsorship system.

There were fewer Graduate Visa applications than may have been expected.

This category started in July 2021 and 33,973 applications were made.  Around 11,500 applications were from Indian students, 2,800 Chinese and 2,600 from Nigerian students. Clearly that’s a lot of applicants in a new immigration category, but many international students seem to be declining the offer of Graduate visas. Universities UK state that 605,000 overseas students were at university in the UK in 2020-21 with 143,820, 84,555 and 21,305 students from China, India and Nigeria respectively.  A significant percentage of those students would not have graduated in 2021, but most of those eligible seem not to have applied.   When assisting employers with immigration for graduate recruitment schemes, I have noted that many students know that time spent in this immigration category cannot be aggregated for the purpose of settlement based on five years in approved employment.  Many prefer Skilled Worker sponsorship from employers as soon as possible.

Compliance activity is quiet, and right-to-rent penalties have essentially stopped. 

211 licences were suspended or revoked in Q1 2022 compared to 220 in Q1 2020, so this seems back to the usual level. There were fewer civil penalties though; 152 with a value of £2.5million in the latest quarter as opposed to 115 penalties and £2.1 in Q1 2021 and 223 with £3.8 million in fines in Q1 2020.  UK Visas and Immigration intends to systematically use HMRC information to note discrepancies and impose civil penalty fines and, whilst we have seen that happen in practice, there’s little evidence it is leading to any greater level of compliance activity. The Right-to-Rent scheme, which obliges those with limited leave to remain to establish their right to be in the UK before renting property, attracted only three such penalties in Q1, only sixteen in the last year with a value of £14,640. The right-to-rent scheme deters assignees from settling in the UK from our experience and obliges many to rent short term accommodation or stay in hotels for the first weeks of their stay which they would otherwise not wish to do. UKVI are finding precious few breaches of the requirements which might justify this inconvenience. Surely, it’s time to abandon right-to-rent as a bad idea?

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