A total of 40,875 Nigerian students as well as health and care professionals were granted visas by the United Kingdom in one year, according to official data released on Thursday.
The number of health and care workers from Nigeria who got work visas more than tripled while that of those who secured student visas rose by 72.8 percent.
The data from the British government show that the number of Nigerians under the health and care category of the skilled work visa rose by 263.7 percent (16,153) to 22,278 in the year ending June 2023 from 6,125 in the year ending 2022.
Africa’s biggest economy recorded the second largest percentage increase (263.7 percent) behind Zimbabwe (372 percent), according to the data.
In terms of dependants granted health and care work visas, Nigeria’s number grew by 374 percent from 7,452 to 35,330.
Experts say the rise in the number of healthcare workers migrating to the UK can be attributed to the cheap and easy entry migration requirements of the country, which is facing severe shortage of healthcare workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The staff shortages have been front and centre for the UK’s successive governments, making the country a net importer of healthcare professionals.
In 2020, the Conservative government pledged to increase nurse numbers by 50,000 over the next five years, and offered additional cost of living support of £5,000. In that year, the country announced a health and care visa policy, which aims to make it cheaper, quicker and easier for healthcare professionals to migrate to the UK.
Africa’s most populated nation has in recent years seen a mass exodus of talent, popularly called ‘japa’ (a Yoruba word for “run quickly”), which has led to the dearth of skilled workers in the health sector.
High poverty, unemployment, poor human capital development, insecurity and poor education are some of the major reasons many Nigerians are leaving the country in search of greener pastures.
Data from the British government also show that the number of Nigerians who got sponsored study or student visas rose to 58,680 in the year ending June 2023, the highest in at least five years, from 33,958 in the year ending June 2022.
“They are looking for Africans not out of love but for the love of skills, especially the ones that can prepare them ahead of the future,” Kemi Ogunkoya, a Lagos-based leadership development strategist, said.
She added that Nigeria, which has a large population, has a lot of educated people. “So, it is more about the prosperity of the country and economic benefit they will derive.”
Jennifer Oyelade, director of Transquisite Consulting, said European countries will continue to look for more Nigerians to come into their region because it financially works best for them.
“Secondly, they believe Nigerians will be able to fill the unemployment gaps that have been caused by the Great Resignation across Europe,” she said.
A recent article by Matthew Page, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted that British independent schools, especially private boarding ones, view Nigeria as an increasingly attractive market.
“Most of them warmly welcome Nigerian students and overwhelmingly see the students as better-than-average performers and net contributors,” he said.
The UK, one of the most advanced economies in the world and top places to study in, operates an immigration system underpinned by the principle of visa sponsorship.
The sponsor for immigration purposes is the educational institution where the student will study and the visa is issued for a particular course at the institution.
In 2019, the UK updated its International Education Strategy. The update reaffirmed the government’s goals of increasing the value of its education exports to £35 billion ($48 billion) and to hosting at least 600,000 international students per year by 2030.
The strategy commits to previously established goals for foreign enrolment growth, which have been replaced by new immigration routes and work opportunities for foreign students. It intends to create clearer pathways to immigration.
Some of the ways in which this growth is to be achieved is the Graduate route, which was launched in July 2021. The route will allow eligible students to stay in the UK to work, or look for work, for two years (three years if studying at PhD level) after they have completed a degree in the UK. Others are high potential individual visas, global talent visas and scale-up visas.
India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Europe, China, and Hong Kong are the markets spotlighted as priorities for the UK.
The minimum 600,000 target was achieved in 2021 as the total number of international students hit 605,130 and 679,970 in 2021 and 2022 respectively.
The immigration data also revealed that Nigeria had the highest number of dependents (67,516) of sponsored study visa holders in the year ending June 2023, more than twice the number (31,791) in the year ending June 2022.
“Indian nationals had the second highest number of dependents, increasing from 24,858 to 43,552. The increases for Nigeria and Indian dependents are in-part a reflection of the increases seen in main applicants and are fairly in proportion to those changes,” British government said.
But the number of sponsored study visa holders and their dependents might decline next year on the back of the UK’s recent visa policy restricting the number of families for international students due to an increase in net migration.
“The UK is a top destination for the brightest students to learn at some of the world’s best universities. But we have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of student dependents being brought into the country with visas,” Suella Braverman, UK’s home secretary, said in May.
A recent report by Phillips Consulting Limited showed that more than half of Nigerian highly skilled employees plan to quit their jobs and relocate abroad next year.
The report, which surveyed 1,054 Nigerian adults aged 18 or older between August 24 and September 3, 2022, said 22 percent plan to migrate abroad within the next two-three years, while 26 percent are still determining their plans or have no intention of relocating abroad.
“The finance and insurance, professional services, and IT sectors are expected to be hit the hardest. The migration of skilled workers could significantly impact the performance of these sectors and the overall economy,” it said.
According to Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at SBM Intelligence, up until now, the government’s approach towards engaging with the Nigerian diaspora has been hazardous at best or non-existent at worst.
“The fact that they left does not mean that we have to break up any engagement with them. We need to have a deliberate engagement strategy to attract skilled talents from Nigeria. We have to keep that engagement going so that the only connection that they have in Nigeria will not be only sending remittances to their loved ones,” he said.