The number of immigrants applying for visas to fill skilled jobs fell by more than a quarter at the end of last year.
The number being refused essential skills work permits peaked in the middle of 2009, at almost one in five applications.
The visa, the main entry into the workforce for temporary immigrants, is labour-market-tested.
The number of applications in the last quarter of 2009 was down by 26% on the corresponding quarter in 2008, with about 1000 fewer permits last October compared with the same month in 2008.
The Immigration Service says that the drop reflects the increase in unemployment and that the trend should be reversed as the economic situation improves.