New migration statistics from the Home Office show that two thirds of the UK’s Seasonal Worker visa holders issued in 2021 went to Ukrainian workers, raising questions about the potential impact of conflict in Ukraine on recruitment to British farms, as the security situation in the nation deteriorates.
After Indian nationals, Ukrainians were the second most common nationality among people granted UK work visas in 2021, almost exclusively as a result of the Seasonal Worker visa. Almost 20,000 Seasonal Worker visas were granted to Ukrainian nationals, 67% of the total. This compared to just 2,280 (8%) Russians – the next largest nationality on the scheme, which covers farm work and also included short-term provisions for poultry processing workers in late 2021.
Today’s new Home Office data also provided the first full-year migration data since the introduction of the post-Brexit immigration system. It showed that only 8% of work visa applications (20,600) came from EU nationals. A particularly low share of skilled workers on the Health and Care route—1% or 820 applicants—were EU citizens.
Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “For most of the past 15 years, the majority of work migrants coming to the UK were from EU countries. Since the end of EU free movement, the large majority now come from non-EU countries. Today’s data show how heavily UK farms have relied on Ukrainian workers in particular, raising the question whether this source of workers will be disrupted by unpredictable events in that region.”
Today’s data also provide the first ever official Home Office statistics on irregular migration to the UK. They show that an estimated 28,526 people were detected arriving in the UK in small boats in 2021. Of these, 3,323 or 12% were children. Previous data suggest that the large majority of people arriving by small boat are seeking asylum. The backlog of asylum applications awaiting an initial decision from the Home Office now exceeds 100,000.
Dr Peter William Walsh, Senior Researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “The reasons for the increase in small boat arrivals are not yet fully known. A large majority of people crossing the Channel in small boats claim asylum on being brought to the UK, and evidence from around the world suggests that changes in asylum applications are largely driven by developments well beyond UK policymakers’ control, such as crises and violence in other countries. People’s decisions about how and where to move are affected by networks, and information that is often not reliable. All this makes it hard to predict how numbers will change—up or down—over time.”
Today’s data also show that almost 104,000 visas were granted to Hong Kongers with British National Overseas status under the scheme introduced for them at the end of January 2021.
Dr Walsh added: “BNO passport holders tend to be young, relatively well-educated and also many have school-aged children. Unlike most other flows of migrants into the UK, the government has introduced an integration strategy for this group, so it will be interesting to see how this approach works as Hong Kongers begin to make their lives in their new communities.”
The data also show a record number of international student visas granted to non-EU citizens, at 416,000 in 2021.