19 May, 2022
1. The government promised that its post-Brexit immigration system would reduce overall immigration levels and deliver ‘firmer’ border control. Yet the opposite has happened, as we show below with analysis of Home Office (HO) data. In 2021, there were over 800,000 longer-term entry grants to non-UK nationals for work, study, family and resettlement. Meanwhile, illegal arrivals have tripled since 2018. The public sense that something is wrong (7 in 10 say Ministers are failing on immigration, YouGov). Yet official transparency on immigration is inadequate (and worsening). Key statistics are being delayed, and the picture of what is happening is being occluded as non-UK arrivals rise.
2. Entry clearance grants for longer-term stays for work, family, study and resettlement were more than 800,000 in 2021, with 95% from outside the EU. Just 50,000 entry clearances were to EU citizens – who since 2021 have required visas for longer stays. Longer-term non-EU entry grants stood at about 780,000. There has been no recent public estimate of outflows due to repeated delays in the publication of both 2021 immigration estimates and exit checks analysis.
3. 2021 was the post-Brexit visa system’s first year of operation. This – we were told by the government - would enable renewed control of immigration following the UK’s departure from the EU, and a reduction in overall numbers. Previously EU citizens could come to the UK to live without visas under free movement rules but they are now included in the visa system for the first time in recent history. As would be expected, this has led to an increase in the total number of visas granted compared with the pre-Brexit figures. Figure 1 below shows that there were more than 880,000 entry grants (EU/non-EU) for work, study, family or resettlement in 2021. When short-term study/temporary work visas are excluded, the total is about 830,000. Around 50,000 (5-6%) were from the EU. 
Figure 1: Entry grants, visas / resettlement (all non-UK).
4. These HO figures include EU citizens for the first time. Therefore, when looking at historical trends, we consider data for non-EU nationals only (below).
5. There were 835,000 entry grants to non-EU nationals in 2021, of which about 780,000 were for long-term purposes. The 35,000 or so illegal arrivals that the UK experienced in 2021 (over 90% of whom claim asylum and the vast majority of whom are from outside the EU) will also add to total arrivals.
Figure 2: Entry grants for visas / resettlement (non-EU)
6. An increase in non-EU entry grants was the chief driver of the increase in numbers overall. For example, there were: a) more non-EU study visas issued b) more direct resettlements of refugees than ever before c) more illegal immigration (driving a record number of asylum claims). Meanwhile, there were 210,000 entry grants to non-EU nationals for work visas in 2021 - much higher than the average of 160,000 per year for the period 2010-20. This will be partially linked to weaker work permit rules, the scrapping of the annual cap on work visas and the recent creation of a special route for health-care workers.. 2021 also saw the most family visa grants / permits for non-EU citizens (119,000) since 2007.
7. Grants to non-EU nationals for sponsored study rose to 411,800, outstripping both their 2019 level of 285,500 as well as the previous high seen in the 2009-2010 period. See Figure 3 below.
Figure 3: Sponsored-study visa grants since 2001 (non-EU citizens). HO.
8. Another factor pushing the increase in non-EU immigration was the rise in resettlement grants / asylum claims to those escaping dangerous parts of the world – Table 1 below. There was a massive increase of about 95,000 compared with 2020, mainly due to arrivals of Hong Kongers but also Afghans.
Table 1: Entry grants to those resettled from places of danger or their relatives
|Year||Total direct grants of entry to resettling refugees or relatives||Of which: Pre-existing or now closed resettlement schemes||Of which: Visas granted to relatives of refugees||Of which: Hong Kong B(NO) scheme||Of which: Afghan resettlement||Of which: Ukrainian refugees|
|2022 (as of late April)||27,100||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||27,100|
9. The government has also confirmed that there was a major increase in illegal immigration in 2021, with 36,800 people arriving without prior permission by air, lorry and boat (about three times the total in 2018). This will have fed into the fact that there were a historically high number (56,000) of asylum applications by main applicants and dependants in 2021 - the most since 2003 when the number hit 60,000. See Figure 4 below.
Figure 4: Asylum claims relating to main applicants and dependants, 2005-21.
10. Global entry clearance permissions for longer-term residence in the UK have reached record levels – with more than 800,000 people being allowed to come in 2021 (more people than live in the city of Leeds). This has partly been driven by a huge spike in study visa grants and a significantly larger amount of direct refugee resettlement (with around 80,000 Hong Kongers arriving in one year). Mounting illegal arrivals during 2021 (including by boat) have also fed into the highest number of asylum claims since 2003 (over 50,000 by main applicants and dependants). The government has failed to deliver on its pledges to restore border control in the wake of Brexit, and to reduce immigration.
Although until mid-2020 there was a time lag of only six months on immigration data, the government has repeatedly delayed the release of statistics that would provide a clearer picture of net immigration for 2021. Such information is vital for the public to be able to hold the government to account on an important national issue, for the purposes of transparency and democracy. But we have now had a delay of nearly a year in the release of figures for the year to mid-2021. There have been three recent cases of delays:
Because of this, members of the public who are keen to know the truth about what has happened to immigration in the first full year since major policy are forced to rely only on figures produced by the Home Office (visa grants, asylum claims and resettlements).