Why do people come to the UK? To work (2024)

Why do people come to the UK? To work (1)

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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/immigration-statistics-year-ending-december-2021/why-do-people-come-to-the-uk-to-work

Back to Immigration statistics, year ending December 2021 content page.

This is not the latest release. View latest release.

Data relate to 2021 and all comparisons are with 2020 and include dependants, unless otherwise indicated.

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic. A range of restrictions were implemented in many parts of the world, and the first UK lockdown measures were announced on 23 March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the UK immigration system, both in terms of restricting migrant movements to and from the UK and the impact on operational capacity.

Year ending comparisons that follow will include impacts resulting from the restrictions put in place during this period of the pandemic.

This section contains data on:

  • Work-related visas, including Skilled work visas
  • Sponsored work visa applications from different economic sectors
  • HGV, Poultry and Butcher visas

1. Immigration for work

There were 239,987 work-related visas granted in 2021 (including dependants). This was an 110% increase on 2020 and is 25% higher than in 2019, the year preceding the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Skilled work, which accounts for 63% of work-related visas granted, saw the largest increase in visa numbers from 2019, up 37,551 or 33%. High value, Skilled worker, Temporary worker and Other work visas and exemption routes all increased compared to the previous year. These increases will in part reflect a recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, however Skilled work and Temporary work visas are also now substantially higher than the pre-COVID-19 levels in 2019.

Table 1: Work-related visas granted, by visa type

Visa type 2019 2020 2021 Percentage
change 2019/2021
change 2020/2021
Skilled worker 113,555 72,090 151,106 +33% +110%
Temporary worker 43,467 23,309 54,084 +24% +132%
Other work visas and exemptions1 29,615 15,731 28,853 -3% +83%
High value 5,922 3,398 5,944 +<1% +75%
Total 192,559 114,528 239,987 +25% +110%

Source: Entry clearance visa applications and outcomes – Vis_D02


  1. The ‘Other work visas and exemptions’ category includes new routes other than Skilled work and older routes such as European Community Association Agreement (ECAA) businessperson, domestic workers in private households, UK Ancestry visas and pre-PBS routes that are now closed.

The newly revised Skilled work routes introduced in late 2020 (Skilled worker, Skilled worker Health and Care, and Intra-company transfer) accounted for 148,240 or 62% of the total work-related visas granted and made up 98% of all Skilled work grants in 2021.

Figure 1: Work-related visas granted by visa type, years ending by quarter between 2012 and 2021

Why do people come to the UK? To work (2)

Source: Entry clearance visa applications and outcomes – Vis_D02

Figure 1 shows the trend for each work visa type for years ending in quarters between 2012 and 2021. There was a fall in the number of grants for each of the main work-related visa types in the first two quarters of 2020, following the onset of the global pandemic. A sharp rise in all visa types is seen across 2021, with Skilled work visas and Temporary work visas continuing to show a particularly strong recovery in the latest quarter.

Figure 2: Number of work-related visas granted by month, 2019, 2020 and 2021

Why do people come to the UK? To work (3)

Source: Entry clearance visa applications and outcomes – Vis_D02 and underlaying datasets

Figure 2 shows how the number of work visas have changed over each month in the last three years, including over the course of the global pandemic. There were almost no work visas granted in April and May 2020, immediately following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the following months, grants started to recover but remained lower than the previous year until March 2021, where the number of work visas granted was higher than both March 2020 and March 2019. Since June 2021, grants have been consistently higher than in the previous two years with no drop off in the final quarter, suggesting a sustained recovery above pre-pandemic levels.

According to Labour Force Survey statistics from October to December 2021 (the latest data with nationality region breakdowns) published in the ONS Labour market overview, UK: February 2022 release, there were an estimated 1.49 million non-EU nationals working in the UK, 21,000 (1.5%) higher than a year earlier.

The number of non-UK nationals working in the UK is estimated to be around 3.64 million, 88,000 (2.5%) higher than last year. There were around 28.9 million UK nationals working in the UK, 252,000 (0.9%) more than a year earlier.

1.1 High Value

The Global talent visa, introduced on 20 February 2020, accounted for 3,078 grants in the High Value visa category in 2021, just over half (52%) of all High Value visa grants, and nearly trebled (+197% or +2,042) compared with the previous year.

Grants of High value visas increased by 22 (<1%) between 2019 and 2021, showing an overall recovery to pre-pandemic levels.

Innovator visa grants have increased while Entrepreneur visas have fallen, continuing the trend which followed a change in policy reflecting advice from the Migration Advisory Committee on the Tier 1 (Investor) route Investment thresholds and economic benefits. The Innovator visa was introduced in April 2019, to replace the Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa. However, in 2021 the combined grants from both visas has fallen by 66% compared with 2019.

1.2 Skilled Work

‘Skilled work’ includes Tier 2 routes from the Old Points Based system and the new Skilled worker, Skilled worker Health & Care, and Intra-company visas, which replaced the Tier 2 General and Tier 2 Intra-company transfer routes in December 2020.

In 2021, there was a 110% (+79,016) increase in Skilled work visas granted. This also surpassed the total seen in 2019 by 33% (+37,551).

Most of the increase was due to the new Skilled worker and Skilled worker Health & Care visas. These saw 123,463 grants, accounting for 82% of the total Skilled work visas granted but also 51% of all work visas.

Intra-company transfers (ICTs) grants rose by 7,738 (+43%), however ICTs are still 50% lower than pre-pandemic levels in 2019. This continues the decline seen since the end of 2016 for the ICT visa route.

Indian nationals continue to be the top nationality in the Skilled work category, accounting for over two fifths (43%) of visas granted. They also saw the saw the greatest increase in skilled work visa grants on 2019, increasing by 7,752 (+14%). The United States, in contrast, saw the greatest decrease on 2019, falling by 2,299 (-25%). There was a particularly large proportional increase in visa grants to Nigerian nationals, which have increased by 130% (+6,327) since 2019.

Table 2: Top 5 nationalities1 granted Skilled work visas

Nationality 2019 2020 2021 Percentage
change 2019/2021
change 2020/2021
India 57,087 31,238 64,839 +14% +108%
Nigeria 3,918 4,456 10,245 +161% +130%
Philippines 6,315 5,380 9,690 +53% +80%
United States 9,222 4,666 6,923 -25% +48%
Pakistan 2,702 2,443 4,387 +62% +80%
Other nationalities2 34,311 23,907 55,022 +60% +130%
Total 113,555 72,090 151,106 +33% +110%

Source: Entry clearance visa applications and outcomes – Vis_D02


  1. Top 5 nationalities in the most recent year.
  2. ‘Other nationalities’ includes those that do not feature in the top 5 in the latest year.

The top 3 nationals for the Skilled worker visa are Indian nationals accounting for 34% (20,189), United States nationals with 8% (4,957) and French nationals with 5% (2,742). Similarly, for the Skilled worker Health & Care visa, Indian nationals were the highest, accounting for 43% (27,041). Nigerian nationals were the next highest with 14% (8,891) followed by Filipino nationals with also 14% (8,780).

In October 2021, the International Sportsperson visa was launched, which combines the Tier 2 (Sportsperson) visa and sporting element of the Tier 5 (Creative & Sporting) visa. There have been 111 issuances of this visa in 2021, representing <1% of Skilled work visas issued in the final quarter of the year.

1.3 Temporary Work

Grants of Temporary worker visas have increased by 30,775 (+132%) to 54,084, which is 24% higher than in 2019.

1.3.1 Seasonal Worker visas

Whilst all Temporary work routes have increased in the past year, ‘Seasonal Workers’ have seen the greatest rise, increasing by 22,420 (+311%) compared with 2020 and currently make up over half (55%) of all Temporary work grants. This route came into effect in Q1 2019, and the growth in this route reflect the quota increases for the Seasonal Worker visa, which increased from 2,500 in 2019 to a current quota of 30,000 visas. More information can be found on the Seasonal Workers Pilot information page. In contrast, all other routes have seen an overall decrease of 40% (-16,521) since 2019.

The highest number of grants on the Seasonal worker route are for Ukrainian nationals, which are at 67% (19,920) of the total, although this proportion is down from 91% in 2019. The next highest grants were for Russian (2,278, 8%), Bulgarian (1,111, 4%) and Belarusian nationals (1,007, 3%).

1.3.2 HGV, Poultry and Butcher temporary visas

In October 2021 the Government launched a temporary visa scheme under the Seasonal Worker route to recruit additional poultry workers, pork butchers and HGV food drivers for the remainder of the year.

There were 2,150 visa applications received under the scheme. Of those applications, 86% (1,845) were made by Poultry workers, 8% (170) by Pork Butchers and 6% (135) by HGV drivers. There were 1,770 visas issued to Poultry workers, 130 visas issued to HGV drivers and 115 visas issued to Pork Butchers. Data from these schemes can be found in Vis_02 of the Entry clearance visas summary tables.

The majority (1,430 or 78%) of visa applications for Poultry workers were from nationals of Bulgaria (515), Romania (455) and Ukraine (455). For HGV drivers, 78% of visa applications were from Bulgarian (80) and Polish (25) nationals and for Pork Butchers, 88% were from nationals of Ukraine (100) and Uzbekistan (50). A further breakdown can be found in Vis_03c of the Entry clearance visas summary tables.

Please note that figures quoted may not match overall totals due to rounding.

1.3.3 Other Temporary work routes

The ‘Youth mobility’ route is the second largest Temporary work route, accounting for 8,373 visas or 15% of the total. This is a 5% increase compared with 2020. However, this is still 58% lower than in 2019, reflecting that the impact of the pandemic on international travel is still felt in this area. The largest numbers of Youth Mobility visas were issued to nationals of Australia (2,080, or 25% of the total), Canada (1,958, 23%) and Japan (1,506, 18%).

In October 2021, the Creative worker visa was launched which replaces the creative element of the Tier 5 (Creative & Sporting) visa. There have been 1,014 issuances of this visa in 2021, representing 8% of Temporary work visas issued in the final quarter of the year. Indian nationals saw the highest number of grants with 390 (38%) followed by United States (71, 7%) and Russian (51, 5%) nationals.

1.4 Other work visas and exemptions

Other work visas and exemptions grants increased to 28,853 in 2021 (up 13,122 or +83%). However, the drop in 2020 due to the pandemic means this is still 3% lower than in 2019.

The number of grants in all sub routes have increased in the last year, except for in the European Communities Association Agreement (ECAA) businessperson route, which closed to new applicants at the end of 2020 and saw a decrease of 9% to 3,828. Most of the issuances on this route were also in the first half of the year.

There were 10,016 grants in 2021 under the Frontier Worker permit, accounting for 35% of Other work visas and exemptions grants. The next largest group was in the Domestic workers in Private Households visa, and while this group still accounts for 31% of the total grants in this category, the number of grants has fallen by 57% since 2019.

1.5 Sponsorship

In 2021, there were a total of 121,386 visa applications for Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) for work. This was 14% more (+15,346) than in 2018.

Skilled work CoS made up 77,272 (64%) of the total applications. Almost two-fifths of sponsored Skilled worker visa applications were in the health and social care sector, with the five largest sectors comprising:

  • Human Health and Social Work Activities (38%)
  • Information and Communications (17%)
  • Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities (13%)
  • Financial and Insurance Activities (9%)
  • Education (5%)

Human Health and Social work CoS applications have almost tripled (+188%) since 2018, when they represented just 17% of sponsored skilled work visa applications, and where the largest sector was Information and Communications at 37% of the total. This increase is likely due to a combination of the removal of doctors and nurses from the Tier 2 Visa Cap in mid-2018 and the further demand for healthcare professionals resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

1.6 The new immigration system (for work)

From the 1st of January 2021, changes in the immigration rules mean that EEA and Swiss (excluding Irish) nationals require a visa to work in the UK. In 2021, there were 30,514 work-related visas granted to EEA and Swiss nationals seeking to come to the UK. The majority of these were in the ‘Skilled worker’ and ‘Other work visas and exemptions’ categories, comprising 46% (14,017) and 33% (10,077) of the total work grants to EEA and Swiss nationals, respectively.

The top EEA nationalities granted work visas and permits in 2021 were French (4,618 grants, 15% of EEA work visas) and German nationals (3,693 12% of EEA work visas). Italian nationals were the next highest with 2,921 grants (10% of EEA work visas).

The work route with the largest number of EEA grants was the Skilled Worker visa, with 10,827 grants. French nationals were the EEA nationality with the highest number of grants on this route with 2,742 grants, followed by Italian (1,668) and Spanish (1,185) nationals.

The second largest EEA work route was the Frontier Worker permit with 10,016 grants. Polish nationals had the highest number of grants on this route, at 1,995 grants. This was followed by Romanian nationals at 1,248 grants and German nationals at 857 grants.

Frontier Worker permits and Skilled Worker visas together made up 68% of all EEA worker grants.

The new Graduate route was introduced on 01 July 2021, which allows students who have successfully completed a bachelor’s degree, postgraduate degree or other eligible course to stay in the UK for a period after their studies to work or look for work. A Graduate visa lasts for two years, or three years in the case of completing a PhD or other doctoral qualification. Further information on the number of extensions granted in this category can be found in the ‘How many people continue their stay in the UK or apply to stay permanently’ topic.

2. About these statistics

The statistics in this section provide an indication of the number of people who have an intention to enter the UK for work reasons.

Before 2021, due to the application to the UK of European Union (EU) free movement law, the majority of UK immigration control related to non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals. From 2021, unless otherwise stated, data in this release relate to both EEA and non-EEA nationals.

Entry clearance visas allow an individual to enter and stay in the UK within the period for which the visa is valid. From 2021, EEA nationals require a visa to enter the UK to work, unless they hold status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Data in this section refer to the number of Entry clearance visas granted for work reasons within the period. If an individual was granted a visa more than once in a given period, this has been counted as multiple grants in the statistics. If an individual entered the UK multiple times within the period for which a visa was valid, this has been counted as one grant in the visa statistics.

The data do not show whether, or when, an individual arrived in the UK, what they did on arrival to the UK, or how long they stayed in the UK.

Year-on-year comparisons of the number of decisions can be affected by quarterly fluctuations in the data. These fluctuations can be examined in the quarterly data available in the published tables. Year ending comparisons will also include impacts resulting from the travel restrictions put in place during the pandemic.

2.1 Tier 1 (High value)

Tier 1 of the PBS was phased in between February and June 2008 as a general route. However, from 2010, Tier 1 has focused on providing visas for ‘High value’ migrants only, including the exceptional talent route, investors and entrepreneurs.

The Tier 1 Entrepreneur route was closed to most new applicants in March 2019 and replaced by the non-PBS Innovator route.

The Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur route was closed to new applicants in July 2019 and replaced by the non-PBS Start-up route.

The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route was closed to new applicants in February 2020 and replaced by the non-PBS Global Talent route.

The remaining Tier 1 routes were closed at the end of 2020.

2.2 Tier 2 (Skilled)

Tier 2 of the PBS was the primary route for economic migration to the UK. Broadly, the route was for skilled workers who have an offer of employment in the UK in an occupation classed as skilled to NQF6 or above.

Tier 2 was implemented in November 2008. There were four routes within Tier 2: General, Intra-company transfer, Minister of religion and Sportsperson.

Tier 2 was closed at the end of 2020 and replaced by the Skilled Worker and Intra-Company Transfer routes.

2.3 Tier 5 (Youth mobility and temporary workers)

Tier 5 (Youth mobility and temporary workers) was implemented in November 2008 to provide a route for those coming to the UK for primarily non-economic reasons.

The Tier 5 Seasonal workers route was open to new applicants from January 2019.

The Tier 5 routes were closed at the end of 2020 and replaced by equivalent Youth Mobility and Temporary Worker routes.

2.4 Certificate of sponsorship (CoS)

From Q4 2019, the method for extracting in-country and out-of-country Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) data has changed. Data quality issues identified as part of this change in methodology has meant that some cases from Q4 2019 onwards are unable to be separately identified as either a visa or extension case, and so have been categorised as ‘unknown’.

Applicants for Skilled and Temporary work visas (and extensions) must obtain a certificate of sponsorship (CoS) from a registered employer. Any organisation that wishes to sponsor a worker must be registered on the Home Office’s Register of Sponsors.

Further information about the CoS allocation process is given in the user guide and on the UK visa sponsorship for employers section of GOV.UK.

2.5 Other sources

Until 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published long-term international migration (LTIM) estimates in its ‘Migration Statistics Quarterly Report’ (latest data available is for the year ending March 2020). The ONS are currently reviewing their methods for measuring population and migration; see their blog post for more information on the latest developments to ONS population and migration data.

3. Data tables

Data on immigration for work can be found in the following tables:

We welcome your feedback

If you have any comments or suggestions for the development of this report, please provide feedback by emailing MigrationStatsEnquiries@homeoffice.gov.uk. Please include the words ‘PUBLICATION FEEDBACK’ in the subject of your email.

We’re always looking to improve the accessibility of our documents. If you find any problems or have any feedback relating to accessibility, please email us.

See section 7 of the ‘About this release’ section for more details.

Why do people come to the UK? To work (2024)
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