A growing number of skilled workers from Africa and Asia are moving to Britain to plug crippling staff shortages, according to new figures that reveal the changing picture of migration.
Businesses are making use of the new post-Brexit migration system to bring in IT professionals, nurses and accountants.
Since January 2021, the new system has made it easier for workers outside of Europe to enter the UK, even though the fees for businesses are high.
While the number of European migrants has fallen in recent years, this has been more than offset by a big rise in migrants from other parts of the world.
Contrary to some initial expectations, post-Brexit Britain has experienced a surge in migration. Official figures published this week could show that net migration has hit close to one million, making it another record high.
India, South Africa and Ghana are among the countries that are having success with the new skilled visa route.
Figures obtained by the law firm Eversheds Sutherland show that 5,133 visas were granted to skilled workers from Ghana between 2019 and 2022. Their numbers are increasing at a robust pace, as are Nigerians who were granted 20,468 visas over the same period.
The number of skilled migrants obtaining visas from South Africa jumped to 6,784 but, at 116,301, it is Indians who dominate the skilled visa route.
The health sector makes great use of the scheme but software engineers have also been in particularly high demand across the economy. More than 35,000 IT professionals have come to the UK under the new system.
Another 5,368 skilled visas have been granted to chefs since January 2021. The figure for chartered and certified accountants was 9,147. However, nurses and care workers dominated the scheme with 53,820 and 35,494 visas granted, respectively.
The first skilled visas were also granted for the clergy and for band 9 nurses. In the final three months of last year, 274 clergymen and women arrived in Britain on skilled visas.
A small but growing number of hairdressers, dressmakers and therapists have also made use of this route, as have gardeners and librarians.
In the case of hairdressers and salon managers, their numbers increased to 34 in the final quarter of last year.
Skills shortages in the country’s food supply chains are also being plugged by migrants. As many as 2,458 visas were granted to butchers during this period, while the number of bakers stood at 115. A total of 104 farmers have come to Britain under the scheme since January 2021.
The data, which was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, suggests that businesses are willing to absorb the cost of sponsorship to secure the talent they need even though the fees levied by the Home Office are high.
It comes at a time when many businesses are struggling to hire domestically. Although it is starting to weaken, Britain’s labour market is still tight and levels of economic inactivity are high.
There are still 282,000 more vacancies in the UK than before the pandemic even though the most recent official data shows that they fell by 55,000 in the three months to April. The same goes for the number of inactive workers, which fell by 156,000 over that three-month period, but is still relatively high.
A recent survey by the Federation of Small Businesses found that 80% of small firms are struggling to recruit candidates with suitable skills.
The figures will disappoint the home secretary, Suella Braverman, who recently called on businesses to train up workers in Britain before calling on overseas workers.
“High-skilled workers support economic growth. Fact,” she said in a speech at the National Conservatism Conference.
“But we need to get overall immigration numbers down, and we mustn’t forget how to do things for ourselves.”
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“It’s not xenophobic to say that mass and rapid migration is unsustainable in terms of housing supply, service, and community relations.”
Louisa Cole, principal associate at Eversheds Sutherland, said: “Since the UK exited lockdown we have seen skills shortages exposed and businesses look overseas for talented workers to plug the gaps revealed… We knew that UK businesses leaned on international talent, but since leaving the EU many have looked further afield than the EU as freedom of movement ended.
“In some respects there is now a level playing field for those outside of the EU when coming to the UK.
“This has been evident in the likes of the financial services sector where UK firms have brought more talent from countries such as India, China, Nigeria and South Africa post-Brexit.”