Immigration up but not as much as expected

The latest quarterly immigration statistics of the United Kingdom were published today. Most of the media focus is on net migration and the Office of National Statistics ONS report. Net migration turned out to be around 600,000 rather than the 700,000 or more that some had predicted.

Here, though, we’re going to focus on just one part of the picture: the Home Office statistics on grants of visas and citizenship. These figures form only one part of the net migration equation (immigration minus emigration equals net migration). Even then, the visa figures are not synonymous with the immigration part of that equation. This is because she visas are issued to migrants coming for less than a year, and these visas are not counted towards net migration at all. This would apply to students on Masters courses, for example, which typically last for nine months.

The statistics relate to the 12 month period March 2022 to March 2023.


Asylum claims were up, the backlog is up, detention is down and asylum removals are fairly static.

There were 75,492 asylum applications by 91,047 people. That is still below the peak in the early 2000s. The rate of increase for asylum claims seems to have tapered off a little, perhaps because of a relative fall in small boat arrivals compared to the same time last year. 3,793 people arrived in small boats in January to March 2023 compared to 4,548 in January to March 2022.

Detention and departure

Immigration detention is down, with 20,416 people entered immigration detention in the year ending March 2023, 20% fewer than in the year ending March 2022. But the percentage of people facing longer periods of detention increased.

The nationalities of detainees is interesting. It shows the dual purpose of immigration detention: establishing identity in asylum claims and enforcing removal in other cases involving overstaying or criminality.

Meanwhile, enforced returns were down 46% compared to 2019 to 3,860. The vast majority of these are foreign national offenders not failed asylum seekers. Nationalities being returned mainly EU: Albania (25%), Romania (18%), Poland (8%), and Lithuania (7%). Brazil (10%).

Work visas

Work visas were up around 61% to 300,000, and that is before dependants are counted. The Home Office breaks these visas down into worker, temporary worker, other work and fancy visas. Not really: investor, business development and talent.

The overall increase is mainly due to a big increase in skilled worker visas. That in turn is due to a big increase in health and care visas. That in turn is due to a big increase in care workers. There were basically zero of these in 2022 and 40,000 in 2023. There was also an increase in the number of youth mobility visas issued, although nothing particularly dramatic.

There were very few of the ‘brightest and best’ type visas issued:

  • 64% rise (+1,333) in ‘Global Talent’ visas to 3,404 grants
  • 25% rise (+82) in ‘Innovator’ visas to 404 grants
  • 14% fall (-68) for ‘Start-Up’ visas to 421 grants

Nearly 20,000 overseas domestic worker visas were issued. That’s down compared to pre-pandemic.

Where do these workers come from? It depends on the visa type.

  • Skilled workers: India, US, Philippines.
  • Health and care: India Nigeria, Zimbabwe.
  • Agricultural workers: Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Skilled workers generally won’t come unless they are allowed to bring their families, so quite a lot of dependant visas were also issued. The absolute numbers increased a lot, and the percentage compared to main applicants also increased a bit too.

Student visas

Student visas were up 22% to 480,000. The main countries of origin were India, China, Nigeria, Pakistan and the US. Another 150,000 visas were issued to student dependants. 73% of these dependant visas were to Nigerians and Indians.

Family, settlement and citizenship

Spouse and partner visas increased quite a lot, but that might be because EU citizens now have to use this visa category. EEA family permits no longer exist and EUSS family permits are down a lot.

The main nationalities of family visa recipients were Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, US and Nepal.

Grants of settlement were up.

Citizenship applications were also up, by 11%. But applicants by EU citizens actually fell compared to a peal in 2021.

There were 180,000 grants of citizenship. 130,000 were naturalisation of adults. 50,000 were registration, which is mainly children.

Posted on May 25, 2023.

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