The latest data are the clearest indication yet of the impact of the pandemic on net migration from outside the EU © Ascannio/Alamy

The number of people granted visas to take up skilled work in the UK fell sharply in the year to June, reflecting a drop off in applications during the coronavirus lockdown.

The fall reversed the trend of record levels of immigration from non-EU countries earlier in the year.

Home Office data released on Thursday showed that in the April to June quarter the number of people granted Tier 2 visas — for skilled workers from outside the EU — fell 95 per cent compared with the same quarter of 2019, to just 1,384.

The decline was part of an overall 99 per cent quarter-on-quarter drop in the number of visas granted, from 1.16m in April to June 2019 to 13,137 in the second quarter of 2020.

The sharp fall in the second quarter helped to push the number of Tier 2 visas granted for the year to June down 20 per cent compared with the previous year and the overall number of visas granted down 22 per cent.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, grants of Tier 2 visas were 9.7 per cent up on the same quarter of 2018, while grants of all visas were 14 per cent up on a year previously.

The issuing of study visas in the second quarter also fell abruptly, declining 99 per cent to 1,276 compared with the second quarter of 2019.

The figures are the clearest indication yet of the impact of the pandemic on net migration from outside the EU, which had been steadily rising before the lockdown on March 23.

Rob McNeil, deputy director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said there had been a “total collapse” in the number of visas granted in the second quarter of the year.

“The impacts are seen right across the board, with many fewer people getting visas for work, study and family,” he said.

While statistics for the first quarter of the year suggested net migration from outside the EU had sharply increased, this was now “ancient history”, he said.

“The big question for the future is how long these impacts last and whether we start to see a recovery in non-EU migration later in the year — particularly among students who usually get their visas in the third quarter,” Mr McNeil said.

Before the lockdown, the UK’s tight labour market and demand from students from Asia to study in the UK had been pushing up migration from outside the EU to record levels.

Figures also published on Thursday from the Office for National Statistics, which lag behind the Home Office data by three months, showed that trend had continued right up to the lockdown. The ONS said 316,000 more people from outside the EU arrived in the UK in the year to March this year than left, outstripping the previous record for net migration from outside the EU of 282,000, set in the year to December 2019.

The Home Office visa statistics suggest the ONS figures for the second quarter will show a sharp decline in non-EU net migration when they are published in November.

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