Britain almost doubled the number of visas awarded to foreign migrants coming to work in the health and care sector last year, government data showed, adding to pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over immigration ahead of the next general election.

Britain granted 337,240 work visas in 2023, 26% higher than in 2022, with the rise driven by those coming to the UK to work in the care home sector, statistics from the interior ministry, or Home Office, showed on Thursday.

Visas under the "Skilled Worker - Health and Care" route almost doubled, rising by 91% to 146,477 last year. Many of these arrivals also brought dependants, with the health and care bracket accounting for 73% of the 279,131 visas given to the family members of workers.

Britain began extending so-called "skilled worker" visas to international care workers from February 2022 in an effort to fill more than 150,000 vacancies in the sector following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Worker rights groups and charities have recorded an increase in the cases of exploitation of migrant care workers since then, with many being overworked or charged thousands of pounds in illegal fees. (Reporting by Sarah Young and Sachin Ravikumar)