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First data from the post-Brexit immigration system shows more visa applications from Hong Kong than the EU

27 May 2021

The UK received more visa applications from people from Hong Kong (34,300), than from the EU in the first quarter of 2021 (5,354), as economic turmoil, the second wave of Covid-19 and the January UK lockdown coincided with introduction of the post-Brexit immigration system, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today. 

Home Office data released today show low take-up of post-Brexit visa routes among EU citizens. In the first three months after free movement came to an end, 1,075 EU citizens applied for long-term skilled work visasA total of 5,354 EU citizens applied for visas of any type, including as short-term visitors. The largest category of entry visa applications was for frontier worker permits, a category specifically designed for EU citizens who do not live in the UK but already worked here regularly before free movement ended (2,751 applications) 

Low numbers of visas issued may result in part from the fact that EU citizens with plans to move to the UK could bring forward their trip and move before the December 31, 2020 cut-off for free movement, rather than facing a more expensive and bureaucratic process under the post-Brexit immigration system. The Covid-19 crisis, rising unemployment, January lockdown and travel restrictions will also have contributed to lower mobility. 

The first official data from the new scheme for Hong Kong British Nationals Overseas (BNOs) reveal that 34,300 people applied to live in the UK by the end of March 2021. The scheme opened formally at the end of January 2021, although eligible people who arrived before then were given a provisional status allowing them to remain in the UK in the meantime. The UK government introduced this programme following China’s passing of a new security law that affects Hong Kong. 

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “Covid has had an extraordinary impact on migration, and low migration from EU countries is one consequence of that. In fact, there’s evidence that net migration from EU countries was actually negative last year. Add to that the impact of a more expensive and restrictive visa system for EU citizens and it makes sense that not many have come under the post-Brexit immigration rules.” 

“Covid has delayed the impacts of the post-Brexit immigration system in some respects. In normal times, we might have expected to see employers scrambling to work out what they need to do to recruit EU nationals after the end of free movement. But the pandemic has meant that many employers don’t need to use the new immigration system yet. So it could be some time before we get a good sense of how many EU citizens are moving to the UK under the new rules and what their impacts appear to be.” 

Today’s data represent visa applications and do not confirm whether people who hold visas have actually entered the UK. There is evidence that people with visas have become less likely to take them up during the pandemic. 

Sumption added: There’s no reliable way to predict how many people from Hong Kong will move to the UK in the long term. The levels we are seeing in these data can’t be expected to be representative of future flows – they may be suppressed by the pandemic, or may represent a larger than normal first wave because of pent-up demand.” 



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