In the span of one year, a total of 40,875 Nigerian students and healthcare professionals have been granted visas by the United Kingdom, according to official data released on Thursday. The figures reveal a significant increase in both categories of visas, with health and care workers experiencing a more than threefold rise in work visas and students obtaining a 72.8 percent increase in student visas.
The data provided by the British government demonstrates that the number of Nigerian health and care workers granted skilled work visas surged by a staggering 263.7 percent, rising from 6,125 in the year ending 2022 to 22,278 in the year ending June 2023.
Nigeria, which no longer holds the position of Africa’s largest economy, ranked second in terms of percentage increase in healthcare worker visas, just behind Zimbabwe which witnessed a 372 percent rise. Additionally, dependents granted health and care work visas grew by an impressive 374 percent, from 7,452 to 35,330.
Experts attribute this notable influx of healthcare professionals to the UK’s relaxed entry migration requirements, particularly due to the pressing need for healthcare workers stemming from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The UK’s long-standing challenge of healthcare staff shortages has compelled successive governments to focus on importing healthcare professionals.
In response to this shortage, the Conservative government initiated measures to attract healthcare workers, pledging to increase nurse numbers by 50,000 over five years and offering additional cost-of-living support. The introduction of the health and care visa policy in 2020 aimed to streamline and expedite the migration process for healthcare professionals.
Nigeria, with its substantial population, has seen a considerable talent exodus, resulting in a scarcity of skilled workers in various sectors, particularly healthcare. Factors such as poverty, unemployment, inadequate human capital development, insecurity, and subpar education have contributed to this trend, often referred to as ‘japa,’ which means “run quickly” in Yoruba.
The data also revealed a surge in Nigerian students obtaining sponsored study or student visas, reaching 58,680 in the year ending June 2023. This figure marks the highest number in at least five years, with an increase from 33,958 in the previous year.
Kemi Ogunkoya, a Lagos-based leadership development strategist, emphasized that foreign countries are seeking skilled workers, especially those who can contribute to future prosperity and economic growth. Jennifer Oyelade, director of Transquisite Consulting, noted that European nations are drawn to Nigerians due to their potential to address unemployment gaps created by the Great Resignation trend.
The United Kingdom’s status as a leading global economy and education hub has driven the growth in international student enrollment. The country’s immigration system relies on the principle of visa sponsorship, often facilitated by educational institutions. To further enhance international education, the UK launched the Graduate Route in 2021, allowing eligible students to work or seek employment in the UK after completing their studies.
As the UK aims to bolster its education exports and attract international students, markets like Nigeria remain a priority. The recent surge in visa grants to Nigerian students and healthcare workers underscores the ongoing effort to bridge skill gaps and foster economic growth through international talent acquisition.