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Collapse in non-EU visa grants after pandemic hits the UK

27 Aug 2020

New data from the Home Office show a collapse in visa grants for non-EU nationals after COVID-19 hit the UK, suggesting a sharp fall in migration, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today.

Grants of work and family visas both declined by 22% and 9% respectively for the full year while grants of visas for study remained effectively flat (+1%). Looking specifically at the second quarter of 2020 (April to June) there was a 99% fall in study visas issued, 96% fall in Tier 2 skilled work visas, and a 90% fall in family visas compared to the same period the previous year.

The Home Office data are released on the same day as Office for National Statistics (ONS) data on net migration covering the year to March 2020 – therefore not including most of the lockdown period. These pre COVID-19 figures paint a very different picture – net migration had increased to a level not seen since before the EU referendum, driven by a sharp increase in the number of non-EU students. However, it is clear from visa data that these figures are no longer relevant.

The new ONS data show net migration in the year to March at 313,000 – the highest level since the year to March 2016. However there are still significant concerns about the reliability of the International Passenger Survey (IPS) the key method used to collect these data, which the Migration Observatory has been raising concerns about for many years. The IPS was suspended at the start of lockdown, and there will be no quarterly net migration statistics published in November as the ONS moves to a new system.

Rob McNeil, Deputy Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “There has been a total collapse in the number of visas granted in the second quarter of the year, after lockdown measures were brought in. The impacts are seen right across the board, with many fewer people getting visas for work, study and family. While statistics for the first quarter of the year suggested non-EU net migration had sharply increased, this is now ancient history.

“The big question for the future is how long these impacts last and whether we start to see a recovery in non-EU migration later in the year—particularly among students who usually get their visas in the third quarter.”

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