The home secretary is preparing to announce a package of measures to cut net migration to the UK, including an increase in the salary threshold for overseas workers.
James Cleverly is expected to tell the House of Commons that the minimum salary requirement for a skilled worker from outside the UK will be significantly increased to about £38,000, a Whitehall official has said.
News of the announcement, expected on Monday, comes after Rishi Sunak had been put under intense pressure from ministers and MPs to raise the figure from its current level of £26,200.
The prime minister has vowed to “do what is necessary” to decrease net migration to the UK after an official estimate saying it had reached a record of 745,000 in 2022, blowing a hole in the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto commitment to reduce it.
The move goes far further than anticipated and in effect revives the pre-Brexit immigration system, when skilled non-EU workers largely required degrees. Sunak is also believed to have accepted further proposals demanded by MPs on the right of his party. It is understood that the number of dependants social care workers are allowed to bring into Britain will also be scaled back.
Home Office figures showed that visas granted to foreign health and social care workers more than doubled to 143,990 in the year to September. They brought in a total of 173,896 dependants.
The general secretary of the Unison union, Christina McAnea, said the package of measures would be “cruel” and “disastrous” for the social care sector.
She told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “I think this is one of these really cruel and disastrous policies basically for the sector. We already know that there’s massive shortages in social care and indeed in health.
“I do want to know have they spoken to anyone in the sector about this before introducing these changes, have they spoken to anyone who commissions or provides or employs care workers? I suspect not. This will be an utter disaster because what they’re doing is basically sending out a really strong message to those migrant workers who are basically propping up the care sector and indeed in many cases the health sector and saying you’re not welcome here.”
The government is also expected to increase the minimum £18,600 income required for a British citizen to bring a spouse or dependant into the UK on a family visa. There will also be an overhaul of the shortage occupation list, under which companies can pay foreign workers in shortage areas 20% below the going rate.
It remains unclear whether there will be exemptions for care workers. There have been concerns that ending the exemption for care workers could worsen severe shortages in the sector.
The Migration Advisory Committee urged the government to scrap the shortage occupation list earlier this year because of concerns that it was increasingly being used by companies in low-wage sectors to hire cheap foreign labour instead of recruiting domestic workers.
David Cameron promised to bring annual net migration down into the tens of thousands in 2010. But the figure has remained high and risen significantly since Brexit, with most people coming from non-EU countries.
After fighting a Brexit campaign driven in part by claims the UK would be able to control its own borders, net migration has soared under the Conservatives in the years since the 2016 referendum.
Sunak has previously put much of his focus on illegal migration, making a vow to “stop the boats” one of the five central promises of his premiership.
The relaunch of plans for Rwanda deportation flights, via a new treaty and new legislation, is also expected to be announced. Cleverly is expected to fly to Kigali early this week to sign the treaty.
Tory election strategists regard migration as a key battle line with the Labour party, which continues to lead the Conservatives in opinion polls by around 20 percentage points.
The next general election must be held by January 2025 but is widely expected to take place next autumn.