Immigration into U.K. Nearly Vanishes with COVID-19 Restrictions

Immigration into the U.K. has fallen dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as governments across the world imposed lockdown restrictions and closed borders in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.

A report released by the Home Office, which looks at the impact of COVID-19 on the immigration system, shows how passengers arriving by air, sea and rail fell sharply, along with visa and asylum applications.

The number of passengers arriving by air into the U.K. fell by 99% in April 2020, compared to April 2019, with the number of arrivals by air decreasing from 7.1 million in January 2020 to 3.8 million in March 2020.

The report states: "Since the U.K. lockdown was announced on 23 March 2020 (in the five weeks up to the April 30), the majority (58 percent) of arrivals by air have been British nationals returning to the U.K. The remaining 42 percent will include foreign nationals who are U.K. residents returning to the U.K., dependants of U.K. residents, and other non-British nationals."

The data also shows that in April 2020 the number of arrivals by sea was 97 percent fewer and arrivals by rail 98 percent fewer than in April 2019.

An additional area of the immigration system that has seen a dramatic fall is that of visa applications, with decisions falling across all types of visa since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as application centers closed by the end of March.

The report states: "The total number of visa applications began to fall in March 2020, with around 129,000 applications, less than half the number in March 2019 (281,000).

"However, falls in applications from Chinese nationals began at the start of 2020 following the COVID-19 outbreak in China.

U.K. border force
Immigration to the U.K. has fallen dramatically after COVID-19 Getty

"In January and February 2020, Chinese nationals accounted for 8 percent of all visa applications, down from 18 percent over the same period in 2019. All other nationalities saw significant falls from March 2020, with only around 250 applications recorded in April 2020."

The month of April saw less than 100 decisions made on visa applications.

The report also states that the number of asylum applications in the U.K. has fallen sharply since the start of COVID-19.

"The U.K. has continued to accept asylum applications throughout the pandemic. However, restrictions in the U.K., across Europe and the rest of the world are likely to have limited the ability of some migrants, who may have gone on to claim asylum in the U.K., from doing so", the report states.

In the four weeks prior to lockdown, there were around 2,500 applications, however in the first four weeks of lockdown there were less than 800, a fall of 69 percent.

In the first four weeks of lockdown there were around "300 initial decisions made on asylum applications" which was around one sixth of the number in the four weeks prior to lockdown.


Passenger data was calculated using Advance Passenger Information (API) data, which uses information from service providers, much of which is completed by passengers before they travel. The statistical information is taken from a live data system and records may be updated. Hence, figures for more recent periods in particular may be subject to revision.

Border and Immigration Transaction Data (BITD) counts Border Force interactions at the UK border. Some passengers will be counted multiple times in the data where more than one interaction occurred and the Home Office notes that the data should be considered indicative.

Asylum and resettlement data was compiled by making comparisons between the period immediately prior to, and the period immediately following the beginning of the lockdown, comparisons are made between the four weeks prior to the UK lockdown being announced on 23 March 2020, and the first four weeks of the UK lockdown.

The data is taken from a live system, and therefore may differ from that reported in the Immigration Statistics. The data in this release are provisional and subject to change.

The data on visas relates to the number of entry clearance visa applications and decisions on such applications. The data is taken from a live system, which may differ from that reported in the Immigration Statistics.

The full report can be read here