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London still top UK destination for skilled migrants despite being hardest hit by fall in overseas workers

·3-min read
Office workers and commuters walk through Canary Wharf in London (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)
Office workers and commuters walk through Canary Wharf in London (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

London is still the top UK destination for skilled migrants, despite being hit hardest by the pandemic-driven fall in overseas workers.

The capital accounted for nearly three-quarters of the decline in the UK’s overseas skilled worker sponsorships in 2020, but remained the top destination for non-EU skilled workers being sponsored by UK employers, new analysis from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford has shown.

Their new report Which Parts of the UK are Attracting the Most Skilled Workers from Overseas? shows that over the past decade London has attracted the largest share of overseas skilled workers by some distance.

Several industries have played a role in attracting these overseas workers to the capital—particularly finance and professional or scientific activities.

But these two industries saw the biggest drop in overseas skilled worker Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) during the pandemic, making London most exposed to the reduction in skilled worker numbers.

The report also shows how in the UK demand for overseas skilled workers in the health sector has grown dramatically since 2014, and by 2020 health was responsible for as much as 60% of all Certificates of Sponsorship for work visas.

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said, “Migration to London was hit hard by the pandemic. The capital saw the biggest drop in overseas skilled worker numbers, as well as the biggest fall in migrant worker numbers across the board.

“But even despite these declines, the data suggest that London continues to the UK’s most attractive destination for skilled people from overseas. There is also evidence that London employers are more open to hiring foreign workers than those in the rest of the country, perhaps because they have more experience with migrant workers or are less deterred by the costs of sponsoring them.

In the first half 2021, as the new immigration system was implemented, few EU citizens used the Skilled Worker route. Among those who did, as many as 60% were sponsored by London employers—much higher than for non-EU citizens.

The report stated this is largely driven by the jobs they are working in: EU citizen Skilled Workers in the first half of 2021 were concentrated in finance, professional/scientific occupations and education.

London is still expected to be affected most by the end of free movement, however, because it was the part of the UK that has had the highest share of EU-born migrants in its workforce in recent years. Many of the jobs these EU migrants do are not eligible for work visas at all in the post-Brexit immigration system.

Sumption added: “The new post-Brexit immigration system has compounded the decline in London’s apparent ‘attractiveness’ for migrants, but the reality is that this is probably more of a blip than a long term trend. It seems likely it is more about the specific circumstances of the pandemic and policy change than evidence that migrants are no longer attracted to making a life in London.”

Skilled workers sponsored by employers make up a small share of overall migration, but they are among the groups of workers with the most significant economic benefits, because of their high skills and earnings.

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