Initial suggestions are that the visa grants during the Covid period (e.g. Q2 2020) were 90%+ lower than in Q2 2019 (see below). However, it is important to note that the pandemic’s impact on immigration, particularly on work-related immigration, should not be used as the basis for justifying plans that were drawn up long before Covid-19 reared its head.
We have no comprehensive picture yet of what has happened to immigration since the first ‘lockdown’ began on 23 March. Some inferences can be drawn for non-EU nationals from the visa information, and for EU nationals from labour force and population statistics.
The following Home Office link shows that for non-EU nationals, visa applications and grants and extensions of leave all dropped very sharply during April, both due to travel restrictions around the world and staffing/interviewing issues here in the UK as a result of Covid. Refugee resettlement stopped entirely. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/announcements/statistics-relating-to-covid-19-and-the-immigration-system-may-2020
More up to date figures released by the Home Office at the end of August (covering the year to June 2020) show that there were 2.1 million visas granted in the year ending June 2020, a 29% decrease compared with the previous year.
The Home Office’s visa statistics for the year to June 2020 included:
- a 22% drop in work visas on the year (to 145,000)
- a 9% drop in family visas on the year (to 155,000)
- Despite this there was still a 1% increase in Tier 4 study-visas on the year (due to a very significant increase in such visas before Covid hit)
- And there was a further fall in deportations / returns of those with no right to be here (already at the lowest level since records began.
These figures include the quarter Apr-Jun 2020 during which the UK was firmly locked down throughout and in this quarter, unsurprisingly, there was a 97% (27.7m) decrease in total visa grants compared to the same quarter in 2019.
The latest labour market figures also suggest a fall in the number of EU migrants in the UK as falls in the number estimated to be in work have not been matched by similar increases in unemployment or inactivity. For example in this article https://ukandeu.ac.uk/labour-force-survey-the-mystery-of-the-shrinking-migrant-workforce/. However, it is unclear to what extent this entirely reflects reality while the ONS get to grips with changing from face-to-face to telephone interviews for the Labour Force Survey.
However, when it comes to immigration figures, as opposed to visa or labour market statistics, the latest comprehensive statistics that we have are only for the year to March 2020 (see Office for National Statistics release and our migration statistics page). We will hopefully receive more comprehensive immigration figures for the year to September 2020 this Thursday 26 November. These are also the first statistics which will not be based on the International Passenger Survey – the main tool used for estimating immigration since the 1960s – but on administrative data.
These will almost inevitably see a significant decline in net migration simply because of barriers to new arrivals during periods of lockdown. There might also have been considerable churn resulting from people coming/going ‘home’ to sit out the pandemic and the figures might well show high numbers of Brits returning from abroad just as non-UK nationals will have left for their own ‘home’. However, none of this short-term dislocation means there need be any change in thinking about the forthcoming new Immigration Rules.
Quite the contrary. The economic effect of the pandemic is all too clear, with unemployment rising sharply and enormous sums being committed by government to keep millions more in their jobs even when there is no work, or less work, for them actually to do.
As government support is withdrawn, businesses are even more likely to claim they have no choice but to seek to cut costs, and the past two decades tell us that for many this means looking to keep staffing costs down by going abroad for cheaper workers.
And of course depending on how the economies of potential source countries have themselves been hit by the pandemic, there might be even more ‘push’ on foreign workers on top of the ‘pull’ that the UK’s new rules will exert. As we keep on saying, in these highly uncertain times no cap means no control.
Meanwhile, Covid might represent a temporary interruption in service.
It is quite probable that, once the global situation returns to normal, immigration will shoot up once again and surpass current records to hit heretofore unprecedented levels, especially with the addition of three new uncapped routes – a settlement route for up to 3 million Hong Kongers, uncapped Tier 2 work permits (including a loosening of the rules for hundreds of millions of potential applicants in 80% of the world’s countries), and the revival of Labour’s failed post-study work route, including into the lowest-paid jobs.
There were also increased illegal arrivals in small boats and in the back of lorries in 2019, something the Chief Inspector of Borders alluded to in a recent report (see our comment). Unless the enforcement and legal regime surrounding this is addressed, that too is likely to only get worse once global travel resumes again in earnest.