London: Indian nationals top the tally of skilled worker and student visas issued by the UK over the past year, according to official immigration statistics released in London on Thursday.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) data collated by the UK Home Office shows that Indian nationals were the top nationality for cross-sector skilled work, including specifically targeted healthcare visas aimed at filling staff shortages in the National Health Service (NHS).
They also made up the largest group of students granted visas under the new Graduate post-study work route, representing 41 per cent of grants.
“Indian nationals were the top nationality for visas in the Worker’ category, representing one third (33 per cent) of grants, and were by far the top nationality for both the Skilled Worker’ and Skilled Worker – Health and Care’ visas,” the Home Office analysis notes.
“A total of 92,951 Graduate route extensions were granted to previous students in the year ending March 2023. Indian nationals represented the largest group of students granted leave to remain on the Graduate route, representing 41 per cent of grants,” it said.
According to the latest statistics, skilled worker visas granted to Indians rose 63 per cent, from 13,390 in 2021-22 to 21,837 in 2022-23. In the healthcare visa category, Indians registered an even higher 105 per cent hike from 14,485 to 29,726.
“There were 138,532 sponsored study visa grants to Indian nationals in year ending March 2023, an increase of 53,429 (+63 per cent) compared to year ending March 2022 and the largest number of study visas granted to any nationality. Grants to study for Indian nationals have risen markedly since year ending March 2019 and are now around seven times higher,” the analysis notes.
“Nigeria had the highest number of dependants (66,796) of sponsored study visa holders in the year ending March 2023, increasing from 27,137 in the year ending March 2022. Indian nationals had the second highest number of dependants, increasing from 22,598 to 42,381,” it notes.
The latest data comes days after UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman announced a clampdown on the right of student visa holders to bring dependent family members, limiting it only to PhD level students.
“This package includes: removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes,” Braverman said in a statement to the House of Commons announcing a new package of measures to curb migration.
It was widely seen as pre-emptive action ahead of the latest ONS figures revealing on Thursday that net migration to the UK hit a record 606,000 in 2022-23, up from 504,000 in the previous year and driven by a sharp rise in workers and students from outside the European Union (EU).
More people from outside the EU arriving on student and work visas, as well as the Ukraine and Hong Kong schemes, all contributed, the ONS said.
Reacting to the data, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Numbers are too high, it’s as simple as that. And I want to bring them down.”
Asked whether immigration was out of control, the British-Indian prime minister replied: “Well, no, I think the numbers are just too high.”
He told ITV that the measures to tighten visa rules for overseas students which were put in place this week were “significant” and would bring levels down over time.
In a bid to drive down net migration, from next year, only those on post-graduate research programmes will be able to bring their families to the UK.
The spike in the numbers will intensify calls for a tougher crackdown on immigration norms from within the governing Conservative Party, which has had an election target to bring down overall numbers especially in the wake of Brexit.
However, experts warn that including overseas students within overall net migration statistics is in itself a flawed approach.
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“We have a situation where migration figures are scaring people and I feel very strongly about this,” said Lord Karan Bilimoria, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on International Students, who has raised the issue in Parliament.
“We must exclude international students from the net migration figures. America and Australia treat international students as temporary migrants. We are unnecessarily creating a fear of immigration by including them because international students, on the whole, go back to their countries where they come from,” he said.
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