Who can work in the UK: A Comprehensive Overview

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The landscape of immigration to the United Kingdom has witnessed significant shifts in recent years, with statistics reflecting an evolving picture of who is allowed to reside in the country. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), net migration to the UK hit 672,000 in the year leading up to June 2023. This figure, while indicating a slowdown in immigration compared to previous periods, remains substantial. Notably, the revised data for the previous year reached a record high of 745,000, significantly surpassing earlier estimations.

Understanding Migration Trends: In the year ending June 2023, approximately 1,180,000 individuals arrived in the UK with plans to stay for at least a year, while an estimated 508,000 departed. This resulted in a net migration figure of 672,000, representing a decrease from the record high of 745,000 seen in 2022. Notably, the majority of arrivals hailed from non-European Union (EU) countries, with 968,000 individuals entering the UK from these regions.

Reasons for Migration: Among non-EU migrants, the primary motives for relocation were centred around study (39%), followed by work opportunities (33%) and humanitarian reasons (9%), as detailed by the ONS. The top nationalities among non-EU migrants included Indian, Nigerian, Chinese, Pakistani, and Ukrainian individuals, reflecting diverse reasons and backgrounds contributing to UK immigration.

Student Visa Trends: The issuance of study visas saw a significant surge, with the government granting 486,107 study visas in the 12 months leading up to September 2023. Notably, half of these visas were allocated to Indian and Chinese nationals. Nigeria, Pakistan, and the United States also featured prominently among the nationalities receiving student visas. Moreover, provisions for postgraduate students to bring dependents along were in place, amounting to 152,980 visas granted to dependents in the same period.

Changes in Student Visa Regulations: Recent governmental announcements have signified alterations in student visa policies, notably affecting the rights of international students to bring dependents to the UK. The slated changes, effective from 2024, restrict the eligibility of dependents unless linked to specific postgraduate research programs.

Post-Study Work Opportunities: Individuals completing their degrees have the option to remain in the UK under a graduate visa, allowing for a two-year (or three-year for doctoral degree holders) work period. Notably, 104,501 such visas were issued in the period up to September 2023, excluding dependents.

Impact of Brexit on Immigration: The post-Brexit era witnessed a significant transformation in immigration dynamics. Prior to Brexit, citizens from both the European Union and the UK enjoyed freedom of movement across EU nations. However, as of January 1, 2021, this freedom ceased. Consequently, the net migration of EU nationals recorded -86,000 in the 12 months leading up to June 2023, indicating more departures from the UK than arrivals. Conversely, net migration figures for non-EU nationals stood at 768,000, while British nationals experienced a net migration of -10,000, with more leaving the UK than returning.

Visa Rules for Economic Migrants: The Points-Based System (PBS) serves as the primary framework for individuals seeking work in the UK. Initially applied to migrants from non-EU countries in 2008 and subsequently revamped post-Brexit, the current PBS encompasses both EU and non-EU migrants, having been introduced at the close of 2020.

Understanding the Points-Based System: Applicants aiming for a skilled worker visa must accrue sufficient points under this system. The initial 50 points are attainable through a job offer exceeding a minimum skill level and proficiency in English. Additional points, amounting to 20, can be obtained via criteria such as salary, employment in a shortage occupation, or possession of a relevant PhD. Alongside the application fee, which typically ranges from £719 to £1,500, applicants are required to pay a healthcare surcharge of £624 for each year of their intended stay.

The Significance of the ‘Shortage Occupation List’: A curated “shortage occupation list” aids employers in filling specific roles that face shortages. Jobs on this list feature a lower salary threshold, facilitating applicants’ attainment of the necessary points for securing a visa. Occupations currently on this list encompass roles like care workers, graphic designers, construction workers, and veterinarians. The list undergoes periodic updates based on recommendations from the independent Migration Advisory Committee.

Seasonal Worker Visas: Temporary workers engaged in roles such as fruit picking and poultry farming fall under seasonal worker visas. For the years 2023 and 2024, a quota of 45,000 to 55,000 seasonal worker visas, alongside an additional 2,000 for poultry workers, has been made available. Applicants must adhere to the minimum wage requirements and pay an application fee of £298.

The evolving landscape of UK immigration underscores the multifaceted considerations and changing policies governing residency in the country. Stay tuned for further updates and insights into the intricacies of UK immigration regulations.


Nick Atwal

Nick Atwal, a distinguished Immigration lawyer based in the UK, is here to help you with his wealth of experience and knowledge. With a remarkable career spanning many years, including hosting immigration TV and radio shows, lecturing Immigration law at a prestigious London university to post graduate students, and being a renowned authority in Immigration law. Nick Atwal is your go-to resource for all matters related to UK immigration.