Who is allowed to come to live in the UK?

  • Published
Related Topics
A group of nurses in conversationImage source, Getty Images

UK net migration hit 606,000 in 2022 - the highest figure ever recorded, according to the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The rise is driven by people arriving from non-EU countries on government-issued visas to study, work or join family members.

The figure includes Ukrainian and Hong Kong citizens for whom the UK government opened special schemes.

How many migrants come to the UK?

In 2022, 1,163,000 people came to the UK expecting to stay for at least a year, and an estimated 557,000 departed.

That means net migration - which is the difference between the number of people arriving and leaving - stood at 606,000.

This represents a record high, and an increase of 118,000 on 2021.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which compiles the figures, said the rise was driven by non-EU migrants coming to the UK for work, study or humanitarian reasons.

In October 2022, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said her "ultimate aspiration" was to reduce net migration to the UK to the "tens of thousands".

Official immigration data gathering was disrupted during the Covid-19 pandemic and there have been considerable changes to the way the figures are collected.

That means there are problems with comparing these figures with ones from more than a year ago.

How many students come to the UK?

Half of those were granted to Indian and Chinese nationals.

Students from Nigeria were the next most common nationality of student visa holders, followed by Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Students on postgraduate courses could also apply for visas for qualifying dependants: husband, wife, civil or unmarried partner and any children under 18 years old.

In 2022, 135,788 visas were issued to dependants.

However, on 23 May, the government announced it was removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they were on postgraduate courses designated as research programmes.

Students who have already completed their degree can stay in the UK for two years (three years for those with a doctoral degree) to work under a graduate visa.

How has Brexit changed immigration?

Before Brexit, European Union and UK citizens had the freedom to live, work or study in any EU country without needing a work visa.

However, this freedom of movement came to an end on 1 January 2021.

In 2022, net EU migration was -51,000. This means more EU nationals left the UK than arrived.

Net migration of non-EU nationals - the difference between those arriving and those leaving - was 662,000.

There was a net decrease of 4,000 British nationals.

Many Brexit supporters - including Ms Braverman - argue that leaving the EU has given the UK more control over its migration policy.

Sir Keir Starmer has ruled out restoring freedom of movement and says the UK must wean itself off "immigration dependency".

What are the current visa rules for economic migrants?

Most people wanting to work in the UK have to apply for a visa through a points-based system (PBS).

A points system was first adopted by the Labour government in 2008, when it applied to migrants from non-EU countries. It was then overhauled by the Conservatives after the Brexit vote.

The current PBS - which covers EU and non-EU migrants - was launched at the end of 2020.

How does the points-based system work?

Applicants need enough points to qualify for a skilled worker visa.

The standard fee for a skilled visa is usually between £625 and £1,423.

If granted, the visa lasts for up to five years before it needs to be renewed.

What is the 'shortage occupation list'?

A "shortage occupation list" exists to help employers fill certain roles. These jobs have a lower salary threshold, making it easier for applicants to gain the required number of points to get a visa.

Jobs currently on the list include:

  • care workers
  • graphic designers
  • nurses
  • vets

The government updates the list based on advice from an independent group of experts - called the Migration Advisory Committee. In March it added construction workers to the list.

The government is also carrying out a wider review of the list, which is due to conclude in autumn 2023.

What about seasonal workers?

Temporary work, like fruit picking, is covered by seasonal worker visas.

Image source, Getty Images

The government has said 45,000 visas for seasonal workers will be available in 2023, with the potential to increase that number by a further 10,000 if necessary.

Workers who are granted a visa must be paid at least £10.10 an hour.