No sign of Brexit Britain ‘closing its doors to the World’

Graham Charles Lear
6 min readOct 10, 2021

Let us look at the latest numbers granted permission to come and work — UK and EU.

On Friday (08 Oct 2021) the EU released its figures for last year and I have analysed the figures for visitors granted the right to work for more than three months, both in the UK and in the EU in 2020. Many sets of statistics are of course distorted when looking at last year, 2020, compared to previous years. Covid-19 had a devastating impact on the ability of people to travel for work, let alone for any other reasons.

In this article I summarise the number of foreign workers and dependants coming to the UK last year and compare these with those going to work in the EU in the same year. I also look at the latest UK figures for the 12 months to end-June 2021, which the EU does not provide.

What has happened in the UK this year so far, following Brexit?

With all the press coverage of the shortage of workers in some industries, and the blame is placed firmly on Brexit by the pro-EU elements of the media, I decided to look at how the number of new foreign workers has changed over the past 12 months, as restrictions have started to be lifted.

If the UK’s departure from the European Union on 01 January 2021 had had a large impact, we would expect to see the numbers stay at low or reduced levels. In fact, the numbers have jumped.

UK work-related visas granted — second quarter of 2021 compared to the same quarter last year

  • Q2 (Apr-Jun) 2020: 6,542
  • Q2 (Apr-Jun) 2021: 56,075 — Nearly a nine times increase
  • 12 months to end-June 2021: 172,045

The quarterly figures for the last 12 months are as follows: Q2 2020–6,542; Q3 2020–39,571; Q4 2020–35,919; Q1 2021–40,480; Q2 2021–56,075.

If the trend in the first half of 2021 continues,
the UK will have issued over ¼ million work-related visas by year-end.[Source: Tables published by the UK Home Office on 26 August 2021.]

Of these work-related visas granted last year, 60% were in the ‘high skilled’ category.

It is important to recognise that this recovery in the number of new work visas which have been issued took place prior to the lifting of many Covid-19 restrictions, including those people coming from red list countries. Even if comparing Q2 of this year to the previous quarter this year, the number of new foreign workers increased by 38.5%.

Next: The EU’s new residency permits for work, taking out the massive distortion of Ukraine

The bald figures from the EU for 2020 hide a glaring anomaly. As a result of the continuing de facto civil war in Ukraine, very large numbers from that country have sought jobs in the EU. In fact, last year over 57% of all successful EU residence permits for work purposes came from Ukrainians. The vast majority (84.8%) of these received their permits from Poland.

New work visas/work and residence permits, 2020

1. New foreign worker permits in EU in 2020, and the “half-million Ukrainians” effect

  • Total: 903,398, of which:-
  • Ukrainians: 516,005 (57%)
  • Others: 387,393

Taking out the distortion of Ukrainian workers (516,005), only 387,393 non-EU citizens sought and were granted permits to reside and work in the EU in 2020.

After a large number of Ukrainians, the other nationalities in the top five were: Belarussian, Indian, Moroccan, and Brazilian.

[Source: EU official statistics agency, published 08 Oct 2021.]

2. New foreign worker visas in the UK compared to new foreign worker permits in EU, excluding Ukrainians

As a proportion of the populations of the UK and the EU27, it seems that more people wanted and were given work permits in the UK, compared to the EU (excluding Ukrainians).

  • UK: 125,169 (0.19% of total population)
  • EU: 387,393 (0.09% of total population)

[Caveat: Two years ago the EU’s statistics agency stopped quoting numbers for the UK in many of its databases, in spite of the fact that the UK was still a full member of the EU. Despite significant efforts, I cannot be sure of comparing like with like in the above UK and EU comparison, so this information is given for illustrative purposes only. In particular, the UK’s figures for work visas include dependants, whereas the EU Commission does not specify to its member countries if they should include dependants in their figures on residency permits for work. Even if the EU does not include dependants, however, it seems highly probable that the UK will still have granted more people the right to work than the EU has, pro-rata.]

172,000 work-related UK visas?

It may surprise many readers to learn that last year the UK was granting new work visas to foreign workers and dependants at the rate of 125,000 per annum, despite all the Covid restrictions on travel. In fact, in the last 12 months to this June (2021), the number is much higher, at 172,045.

Watching the news on TV, readers might be forgiven for thinking that the UK had closed its doors to foreign workers since Brexit, causing general misery and mayhem throughout the land. This report and article today shows that not only are very significant numbers of new foreign workers still entering the UK and being employed, but these numbers are accelerating as the Covid restrictions on travel are lifting.

I expect the number of new foreign work-related visas to exceed 200,000 this year and it could be significantly higher. Some large businesses and industry bodies (often those which were always pro-EU) are complaining about labour shortages. If any questions are to be asked, it seems more reasonable to ask why we are still importing foreign workers in such numbers and why these companies are unable to recruit British workers instead. And why has this not been picked up by the BBC along with other media outlets?

Media coverage tends to focus on overall immigration numbers, but it can take much more effort to look at those coming to the country to work — either on temporary visas or longer. For comparison, the total number of all UK visas granted in the last 12 months to end-June 2021 was an astonishing 830,969 — despite Covid and despite Brexit. These include visas for family reasons and reunification, for study purposes, and for other reasons. As shown above, those coming to work, including dependants, numbered 172,045.

Investing in key workers in key industries

No one is suggesting that there are no shortages of key workers in the United Kingdom, but this is true of all EU countries. In certain activities in the UK, this problem is acute, as in the case of HGV drivers for example, but many EU countries are also each short of tens of thousands of drivers. This is a problem that has been years in the making — long before Brexit or Covid.

It is certain that the enormous backlog of test and licence applications caused by industrial action and excessive bureaucracy at the official Government agencies (DVLA and DVSA) has added to the woes, but this can hardly be put at the door of Brexit. In addition, HGV drivers have been leaving the profession for years, for many reasons including poor working conditions, poor pay, and the recent changes in the tax treatment of self-employed drivers.

Some large employers are now making great play of training new HGV drivers in the UK. There seems little doubt that far too little training of British drivers was done pre-Brexit, as the supply of cheap labour from the poorer countries of the EU was so plentiful.

There are many things to put right and improve in the country, why fight each other?

There are some employers organisations and trade bodies that were vociferously anti-Brexit prior to the Referendum and who have continued their anti-Brexit stance since then. They never seem to look at the positives and seem to wish to continue to justify their positions, despite any facts to the contrary. These people are able to get ample air-time on the BBC.

[ Sources: UK Home Office | Office for National Statistics | EU Commission official statistics agency ]



Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.