Indian students and members of the Indian community queue for free food parcels at a local restaurant prepared by the Malayalee Association of the United Kingdom in the London borough of Newham on May 08,2020 in London, England. Approximately 50,000 Indian students are studying in the UK and many have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Students from India choosing the UK as a higher education destination made up the biggest chunk of migrants to Britain last year, with their figures registering a whopping 136 per cent increase over the previous year, official data released on Thursday showed.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) data revealed that 49,844 Indian students were granted study visas for the UK until the year ending March 2020, which marked the largest number of grants to Indian students since the year ending September 2011.

The only other category ahead of Indian students remains those from China, up 18 per cent compared with the year ending March 2019 to 118,530.

“For the year ending December 2019, non-EU migration was at the highest level we have seen, driven by a rise in students from China and India, while the number of people arriving from EU (European Union) countries for work has steadily fallen,” said Jay Lindop, Director of the Centre for International Migration, Office for National Statistics.

“We know the coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on travel since December and new analysis today shows how international travel to and from the UK has decreased in recent months,” she said, indicating an expected drop in these numbers expected during the course of 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 related lockdown.

Indians also continued to dominate the professional Tier 2 visa category, with half of all grants in the segment going to Indian professionals.

“Indian nationals account for half (50 per cent) of all Tier 2 visas granted, and the number of grants increased by 3 per cent to 58,114 in the year ending March 2020,” the statistics revealed.

The overall net migration figures to the UK continue to reflect a post-Brexit impact, as migration from countries outside the EU rose to its highest level for 45 years but from within the economic bloc it remained in decline.

In 2019, an estimated 49,000 more EU citizens came to the UK than left – down from the “peak levels” of more than 200,000 in 2015 and early 2016.

“Overall migration levels have remained broadly stable in recent years, but new patterns have emerged for EU and non-EU migrants since 2016,” added Lindop.

This in part reflects the different trends in immigration for employment and study, with EU migrants predominantly arriving for work-related reasons and non-EU migrants arriving for study, the ONS notes.

While experts warn that it is too soon to try and quantify the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on migration levels, dramatic changes are expected in the figures for foreign workers and students this year who may not be able to travel freely for their jobs and university courses.

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