UK work visas surge to all-time high in 2022
Amar Ali analyses the UK’s latest work visa data and its implications for future work immigration
According to the latest net migration figures, following the turbulent period between 2020 and 2022, the number of approved UK visas is now nearly back to the highs seen before covid-19. In 2022, a total of 2,836,490 visas were granted across all categories, which is just 11 per cent less than the number granted in 2019. Additionally, 267,670 work visas were issued to overseas workers, marking an all-time high.
An overview of UK work visas
UK work visas include long-term work visas, temporary worker visas, investor, business and talent visas and other work visas. The number of work visas issued in the UK in 2022 compared to 2019 was as follows:
Work visa type
Per cent change
(eg, skilled worker visa, health and care worker visa and intra-company transfer visas)
+161 per cent
Temporary worker visas
(eg, youth mobility scheme and seasonal worker visa)
+72 per cent
Investor, business development and talent visas
(eg, global talent visa, start-up visa and innovator visa)
+38 per cent
Other work visas types and exemptions
(eg, overseas domestic workers visa, HPI visa and graduate visa)
-9 per cent
Total work visas granted
+95 per cent
This data highlights that the number of work visas granted in 2022 reached a record high, and not just by a small margin. The number of work visa visas issued in 2022 was nearly double those granted in 2019 before the covid-19 pandemic (see graph below).
The Home Office’s work visa statistics for 2022 also reveal several other interesting trends:
- Except for 2020, which saw a decline due to the pandemic, the number of issued work visas has consistently trended upwards.
- The number of organisations holding a sponsor licence also rose by 36 per cent from 2021 to 2022. (A sponsor licence is required by any UK company that needs to employ workers from overseas.)
- In 2022, the majority of work visas granted (62 per cent) were for long-term sponsored employment. Specifically, skilled worker visas were the most popular, accounting for 86 per cent of all long-term work visas and 54 per cent of all work visas.
- Skilled worker visa approvals rose by 86 per cent in 2022 compared to 2021.
- Within the skilled worker visa scheme, health and care worker visa approvals rose by 142 per cent compared to 2021, partially as a result of the relaxing of the rules to allow eligible care workers.
The graph below illustrates the phasing out of older work visas in recent years and demonstrates a significant increase in the number of long-term sponsored work visas issued in 2022. (The skilled worker visa replaced the Tier 2 general visa at the end of 2020.)
Why have the work visas nearly doubled in 2022? Firstly, the UK immigration system shifted away from the old tiered system to more standalone work visa categories on 1 January 2021. As part of this shift, eligible skilled roles were broadened due to pressure from businesses facing recruitment challenges in the UK. This included adding care workers and lowering the skills threshold from RQF level 6 to RQF level 3. Secondly, the removal of the resident labour market test, which required employers to advertise for vacancies in the UK before recruiting overseas workers, made it easier and cheaper to sponsor foreign workers. Finally, during the pandemic, there was an unprecedented trend of employees leaving their roles, leading to pressures on businesses to seek sponsorship to fill workforce gaps.
The future of work visas
Given the current government’s approach to immigration, it is not surprising that companies may invest in reinvigorating the domestic workforce. If such measures prove effective, work-based immigration could decrease in the coming years. Policies such as the immigration skills charge (ISC), introduced in 2017 to encourage the training and development of the UK’s workforce, may be implemented to achieve this goal. However, in the short and medium term, work visas are likely to continue increasing as companies struggle with downsizing and stagnation during the pandemic and the current inflation crisis in the UK. Once businesses stabilise and overcome these challenges, work visas are likely to continue being utilised at the same level, if not higher.
Amar Ali founder and director of Reiss Edward