The FINANCIAL – The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a major impact on people’s lives and the UK economy, with significant disruption to worldwide travel.
Restrictions to travel, alongside various social and economic factors, have influenced people’s plans and decisions to travel or migrate to and from the UK.
There have been sizeable changes to international mobility (or in other words people travelling or moving between the UK and other countries) since the first UK lockdown on 23 March 2020, when UK travel restrictions were enforced1 because of the pandemic. In turn, this will have had an impact on international migration to and from the UK.
Overall, there have been significant changes in international migration and mobility since the coronavirus pandemic.
The different data sources presented in this article bring together the best available evidence on international migration and mobility since March 2020, using a range of administrative and survey data sources. These cover different topics, including overall travel to and from the UK (including temporarily or for short- or long-term periods), but also what we know about immigration for work or study.
Overall, since the start of coronavirus pandemic there was substantial decreases in passengers travelling internationally. While the data sources are not directly comparable, there was a broadly consistent pattern seen in passenger data from the Home Office, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Department for Transport (DfT).
Likewise, there was a fall in the number of visa applications issued for work and study to non-EU nationals, shown in Home Office immigration statistics, as visa applications centres closed by the end of March 2020 (although these have since reopened) and restrictions were put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
During the same period, there was also a decline in work-related activity.
Estimates from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) show the number of non-British nationals and non-UK-born, who are UK residents and in employment decreased in the last year. There has also been a significant reduction in the number of National Insurance numbers (NINos) allocated, which are needed to work in the UK, with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) allocation process disrupted as a result of the pandemic.
There was a big impact on recent international mobility, which in turn, will have impacted on migration to and from the UK.
There was widespread decline in international travel to and from the UK because of worldwide travel restrictions
Percentage change compared with a year ago in monthly air passenger volume between airports in the UK and airports in regions of the world, by direction, January to September, 2020
Home Office recent passenger arrivals
Home Office data confirms initial patterns seen in the CAA data and continues to show the impact of the the coronavirus pandemic on the volume of people coming to the UK up to 31 October 2020.
There were around 1.7 million passenger arrivals to the UK by air routes in the month of October 2020 (from API data). This was higher than the average for April to June 2020, following the start of the first UK lockdown, when there were fewer than 200,000 air arrivals per month. However, the number remains substantially lower than levels seen before the coronavirus pandemic in the UK and is around one-fifth (82% lower) of the figure for October 2019, when there were 9.8 million arrivals.
Passengers arriving by air accounted for 87% of all passenger arrivals to the UK in March 2020, however this proportion reduced to 38% in May 2020. Since then, air passenger arrivals have increased, and in October 2020, accounted for 80% of all arrivals (BITD data).
International travel continues to be disrupted as the coronavirus pandemic persists. The national restrictions in England from 5 November to 2 December 2020, mean people can only travel abroad for work, education or other legally permitted reasons. Therefore, we expect to see further changes in the patterns of international travel for this period and potentially beyond.
There has also been a decrease in UK arrivals and departures via short international ferry routes
While air travel is the most common route for international travel to or from the UK, people also arrive and depart via other routes including ferry, Eurotunnel and Eurostar. According to monthly figures produced by the Department for Transport (DfT), the effect of travel restrictions on short international ferry routes to Ireland and other European countries began to be seen in March 2020. Further impacts were then seen between April and September, with the largest decrease in April 2020, when total traffic dropped by 85% compared with the previous year.
There was a fall in work and study visas granted for non-EU nationals since the coronavirus pandemic
Between April and June 2020, during the first UK lockdown, the overall number of visa applications and grants fell significantly. Visa applications centres were closed by the end of March (although have since reopened), and restrictions were put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic, both of which affected caseworkers' ability to conclude an application during this period.
The numbers of long-term work and study visas issued between April and June of 2020 fell by 85% and 99%, respectively, compared with April to June of 2019.
As visa application centres gradually reopened from June 2020, we saw an uplift in applications being issued between July and September 2020. However, this was still lower than the same period last year (29% decrease in work and 41% decrease in study visas granted).
In the year ending September 2020, there were 93,000 and 161,000 work and study visas granted, respectively. For study, this was a decrease of around 100,000 visas issued compared with the previous year (ending September 2019). For work visas, this was a decrease of around 41,000.
There has also been a decline in the number of National Insurance numbers registered to non-British nationals
Between April and June 2020, there was a decrease in NINo registrations of 79% for EU nationals and 63% for non-EU nationals, compared with the same period in 2019. Between July and September 2020, NINo registrations to EU nationals decreased by 99% from the same period in the previous year, while registrations to non-EU nationals decreased by 65%.
The number of non-British nationals and non-UK-born people working in the UK labour market has fallen over the past year
There was an estimated 1.87 million EU nationals working in the UK in July to September 2020, 364,000 fewer than the previous year (16% lower).
For non-EU nationals, there were 1.29 million working in the UK in July to September 2020. This was 65,000 fewer than the previous year (5% lower).
For British nationals, there was an estimated 29.35 million in employment in July to September 2020, which has remained stable over the past year (less than 1% higher).