Home Secretary James Cleverly has outlined a raft of new restrictions on legal migration which he said will slash the number of people arriving in Britain by 300,000 a year.
He said a ban on overseas care workers bringing family dependants and a drastically hiked salary threshold for skilled workers to £38,700 will deliver the “biggest ever reduction”.
The strategy, which will also make it harder for Britons earning under the national average to bring over foreign spouses, comes after net migration levels soared to a record high.
Rishi Sunak has been under pressure from Tory MPs to take action after official estimates said figures hit a peak of 745,000 in 2022.
Mr Cleverly railed against “abuses” of the current visa system as he said “enough is enough” while unveiling the plans to the Commons on Monday.
Under what he described as a five-point plan, the new Home Secretary said he will:
– Stop health and care workers bringing dependants;
– Hike the skilled worker earnings threshold by a third to £38,700, in line with the median full-time wage;
– Scrap “cut-price” labour by stopping shortage occupations being able to pay 20% less than the going rate and reforming the shortage occupation list;
– Raise the minimum income for family visas to £38,700 from £26,200, from next spring; and
– Ensure the Migration Advisory Committee reviews the graduate immigration route to prevent abuse.
He also said the Government will increase the health surcharge this year by 66% from £624 to £1,035.
Mr Cleverly said around 120,000 dependants accompanied 100,000 care workers in the year up to September as he battles to bring down overall levels.
“In total, this package, plus our reduction in students dependants will mean around 300,000 fewer people will come in future years than have come to the UK last year,” the told MPs.
Officials believe the measures for students will reduce migration levels by around 140,000, the changes for social care workers by 100,000, while the threshold alteration will bring a 50,000 reduction.
Requiring many Britons to have a salary of £38,700 – below the national median – to bring over their foreign spouses is expected to cut numbers by the low tens of thousands.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the strategy is “an admission of years of total failure by this Conservative Government”.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said “inflation-busting increases to minimum salary requirements and charges won’t address the shortages that are currently holding back business investment and growth”.
NHS Providers, which represents health trusts, expressed concern that the changes could deter people from taking up jobs in the health and social care sector.
Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy, said: “It’s vital that overseas health and care staff continue to view the UK as a viable place to work and live.
“With over 120,000 staff shortages in the NHS and over 150,000 in social care, measures that deter people from joining these professions are deeply concerning.”
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said the “cruel plans spell total disaster for the NHS and social care”.
But Mr Cleverly exempted people on health and social care visas from the new salary threshold limit to ease the effect on staffing shortages.
He added in the Commons: “Enough is enough. We are curbing abuses to the health care visa.”
Downing Street said there is evidence of people “being brought over for jobs that do not exist or being paid significantly less than required”.
The Prime Minister has been under growing pressure from Tory MPs after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revised its net migration figure to put 2022 at a record high of 745,000.
Accounting for the difference between the number of people arriving in the country and those leaving, the figure for the year to June 2023 is estimated to have been slightly lower, at 672,000.
The Conservatives’ election manifesto in 2019 committed to reducing “overall numbers”, when the net migration figure was around 219,000.
The skilled workers’ salary threshold increase is lower than the £40,000 in the deal Mr Sunak allegedly agreed with his since-sacked home secretary Suella Braverman to win her support for the Tory leadership.
Privately, two Whitehall sources said Mrs Braverman and immigration minister Robert Jenrick pushed for the cap to go higher – to £45,000.
Mr Sunak is also facing a challenge to deliver on his pledge to “stop the boats” crossing the Channel after his flagship asylum policy was deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court.
Mr Cleverly is expected to head to Kigali to finalise a new treaty with Rwanda this week, which ministers hope will help convince judges otherwise.
No 10 said they are still working “urgently” to secure the deal and to produce “emergency” legislation promised after the legal defeat last month.