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Britain announces stricter visa norms to reduce migration

Would-be migrants will need to earn £38,700 ($48,900) to qualify for working visas, up from £26,000, under plans set out by Home Secretary James Cleverly in the House of Commons on Monday. He said the government wants to reduce net annual immigration by 300,000 “in future years,” without setting out a precise timetable. Other measures he announced include stopping overseas care workers from bringing family dependents, and ending the 20% salary discount firms can pay for workers on the shortage occupation list.

“The British people will always do the right thing by those in need,”  Cleverly said. “But they also – and they are absolutely right to want to – reduce overall immigration numbers, not only by stopping the boats and shutting down the illegal routes, but by a well-managed, reduction in legal migration too.”

Sunak has faced intense pressure from Tory MPs to come up with a plan to tackle surging immigration, after the Office for National Statistics said last week an estimated 672,000 more people moved to the UK than departed in the year ending June. Party strategists see immigration — and the government’s failure to reduce overall numbers — as a key electoral issue.

Ministers have spent months talking about stopping asylum seekers arriving in small boats across the English Channel, one of five pledges Sunak has asked voters to judge him by. But the ONS numbers underscored how much the legal migration has changed since the decision to leave the European Union in 2016. For Tory MPs, the growing number represents a broken Brexit promise.

Since the UK left the EU, the Tory party can no longer attribute high migration numbers to free movement of people within the bloc. Instead, the vast majority of migrants arrive under government programs, including refugee visas for Ukrainians and Afghans, work visas such as those issued to health and social care workers or others on the shortage occupations list, and students.

Net migration in the year to June was entirely driven by non-EU nationals, with 768,000 more arriving than departing. That’s up from 179,000 just four years ago. By contrast, there was net emigration of 86,000 among EU nationals.

The demand for action is especially strident among the self-described “New Conservatives,” a right-caucus mainly holding seats in former Labour strongholds in the Midlands and the North that switched to the Tories in 2019. They say they were elected on a “solemn promise” to reduce migration. 

“The solution is to employ British workers for British jobs. It’s not that complicated,” John Hayes, an ally of former Home Secretary Suella Braverman and an advocate of tougher immigration measures, told the BBC ahead of Cleverly’s statement. He welcomed reports of the new measures. “We’re seeing sense, we’re doing the right thing by the British people,” he said.

But Sunak is also likely to face a major backlash from business and risks exacerbating economic headwinds caused by stuff shortages and inflation. The new wage requirements will heap pressure on struggling local councils, who typically spend the majority of their budget on service care, an industry which relies on migrant labour due to the relatively low pay levels.

Also included in Cleverly’s plans: 

  • Care companies will require more regulation to sponsor visas
  • Annual immigration health surcharge to rise by 66% to £1,035
  • The government will reduce the number of occupations on the shortage list
  • Family visas only eligible for higher earners
  • The UK will review its graduate route to visas to avoid overstaying

The opposition Labour Party responded that many of the measures Cleverly announced were reversing policies introduced by the Conservatives, including the shortage occupation salary discount.

There is “nothing in this statement about training requirements and workforce plans,” Yvette Cooper, Labour’s home affairs spokeswoman, told Cleverly in Parliament. “They have no grip, no proper plan. This is a chaotic approach.”

The rules restricting staff from bringing dependents will hit the care sector, Christina McAnea, general secretary of the Unison union, told BBC radio. “Remember, this is a predominantly female workforce, so we’re basically saying you’re only allowed to come here but you can’t bring any children,” she said.

Cleverly told lawmakers the government doesn’t expect the new rule to create a staff shortage in the sector, suggesting data shows applications will shift to people without dependents.

Meanwhile, the government said it is close to agreeing a deportation treaty with Rwanda, part of his strategy to try to force his controversial plan to fly asylum seekers to the east African nation past the UK courts.

 

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Updated: 04 Dec 2023, 11:26 PM IST

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