Which parts of the UK are attracting the most Skilled Workers from Overseas?

What you need to know:

  • London has been the major destination for Skilled Work visa holders over the past decade.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic affected demand for skilled work visas in the capital more than in other parts of the UK. This is partly because overseas skilled workers in London are more likely to be coming for jobs in finance and professional or scientific activities, and visas in these industries across the UK fell most during the pandemic.

Drawing on data from Freedom of Information requests, this analysis funded by Trust for London examines which industries and regions or nations of the UK have been most attractive to people coming to the UK on Skilled Worker visas—the main route for newly hired migrants coming from overseas to work. It looks at data from the past decade, including during the pandemic and in the early months of the post-Brexit immigration system in 2021.

Skilled migration is widely recognized as economically beneficial. Immigration policy in the UK, as in many other countries, is much more liberal if workers are coming to work in highly skilled jobs. However, skilled migration patterns vary depending on factors outside policymakers’ control, and not all parts of the UK are equally able to attract skilled workers from overseas.

Key findings

  • London has been the major destination for Skilled Work visa holders over the past decade. Several industries have played a role in attracting these overseas workers, but particularly finance and professional/scientific activities. Scotland also has a relatively broad base of industries using Skilled Worker visas, with an above-average share in the education sector.
  • In the rest of the UK, a single industry has driven demand for overseas Skilled Workers: health. Outside of London, the health sector was responsible for as much as 60% of all certificates of sponsorship for work visas by 2020. In most parts of the UK, employers have attracted few workers in industries outside of health.
  • In part because London makes broader use of the Skilled Worker visa route, COVID-19 pandemic affected demand for skilled work visas in the capital more than in other parts of the UK. London accounted for three quarters of the decline in Skilled Worker Certificates of Sponsorship in 2020. This is partly because overseas skilled workers in London are more likely to be coming for jobs in finance and professional or scientific activities, and visas in these industries across the UK fell most during the pandemic.
  • As the new immigration system was implemented in the first half of 2021, few EU citizens used the Skilled Worker route. Those who did were much more likely to be sponsored by employers in London, compared to non-EU citizens. This is largely driven by the jobs they are working in: EU citizens were concentrated in finance, professional or scientific occupations, and education.

30 November 2021