United Kingdom

In 2018, the United Kingdom received 343 000 new immigrants on a long-term or permanent basis (including changes of status and free mobility), 0.2% more than in 2017. This figure comprises 46.5% immigrants benefitting from free mobility, 10.7% labour migrants, 25.9% family members (including accompanying family) and 7.4% humanitarian migrants. Around 331 000 permits were issued to tertiary-level international students and 91 000 to temporary and seasonal labour migrants (excluding intra-EU migration). In addition, 61 000 intra-EU postings were recorded in 2018, an increase of 2.1% compared to 2017. These posted workers are generally on short-term contracts.

In 2019, the number of first asylum applicants increased by 18.6%, to reach around 44 000. The majority of applicants came from Iran (5 500), Albania (3 900) and Iraq (3 900). The largest increase since 2018 concerned nationals of Albania (+1 600) and the largest decrease nationals of Kuwait (-300). Of the 29 000 decisions taken in 2019, 52.6% were positive.

In 2019/20, several changes to the immigration system were implemented to improve the selection and retention of highly qualified migrants. The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) was expanded adding occupations in several fields, including health, IT, and STEM. Jobs in the SOL are exempt from labour market testing and are not subject to numerical caps. In addition, PhD-level occupations were removed from the Tier 2 cap.

Start-up and Innovator visas replaced Tier 1 Entrepreneur and Graduate Entrepreneur visas in March 2019. Industry experts rather than immigration officers now make the selection of visa applicants.

In February 2020, the Global Talent visa (with no numerical cap) replaced the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa. It is a fast track visa for talented and promising individuals in the fields of science, engineering, medicine, humanities, digital technology and arts and culture , with an accelerated path to settlement.

The government introduced a Seasonal Workers Pilot for 2019 and 2020, enabling the recruitment of 2 500 and 10 000 temporary migrants, respectively for specific roles in the horticultural sector outside the EU. A new Graduate Route will apply to international students starting with the 2020-21 university intake. It is similar to the two-year Post Study Work Visa discontinued in 2012. International students who will successfully complete an undergraduate or higher degree will be eligible to stay in the United Kingdom to look for a job for two years after completing their studies.

The immigration health surcharge paid by non-EEA immigrants, introduced in 2015, doubled in January 2019, and will increase again in October 2020. As a response to COVID-19, the increase was suspended for a year for medical staff.

The new points based immigration system to start on 1 January 2021 was presented in February 2020. To be eligible under the new system, all immigrants will need 70 points, 50 of which must come from having a job offer by an approved sponsor at a medium or high skill-level and meet an English language requirement. Extra points are awarded for a job offer with a higher wage, a job on the SOL, or for having a PhD.

Under the EU Settlement Scheme and agreements between the United Kingdom and EFTA and Switzerland, EEA and Swiss citizens already in the United Kingdom on 31 December 2020 will continue benefiting from free-movement. Irish citizens will still benefit from free-mobility under the Ireland- United Kingdom Common Travel Area after 2021.

As a response to COVID-19, the Home Office suspended all visa issuances, extended leave for migrants with expiring leaves, and expanded in-country switching provisions, in particular from Tier 4 (student) to Tier 2 (general worker). Applications under the EU Settlement Scheme continue to be accepted on-line. Several programme rules were relaxed during the crisis, such as easier changes to start dates of visas, extra-time allowed for migrant entrepreneurs to fulfil the conditions of their visa, or reduced pay of sponsored employees, under certain conditions. Automatic visa extensions of one year were granted to doctors, nurses and paramedics working in the United Kingdom, and the limit on hours trainee nurses and doctors can work was removed.

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