The Labour and Conservative election promises on immigration and asylum, in brief

immigration A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, onboard the RNLI Dover Lifeboat following a small boat incident in the Channel, as migrant Channel crossings near 10,000 for the year so far. Picture date: Friday May 24, 2024. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
Immigration is a key issue of the general election campaign, with policies around how to stop small boats crossing the Channel subject to much debate. (Getty Images)

Immigration and asylum is third most important issue to voters heading into the election on 4 July, according to polling.

In 2023, 1.2 million people arrived in the UK and 532,000 people emigrated, making for a net migration figure of 685,000. While this was down on 2022, it was more than three times the level seen in 2019.

Both Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer agree that the number of small boats crossing the English Channel needs to be reduced amid an increasing number of asylum seekers crossing the channel, often in dangerous conditions, many of them the victims of people traffickers.

Elsewhere, the UK spent £4.3bn on costs associated with asylum seekers in 2023, and for the first time, immigration has become a hot issue for both political parties, not just the Conservatives.


The issue is undoubtedly complex. Migrants make a significant contribution to the economy. They fill gaps in critical sectors of the economy, such as the NHS and social care sector. According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, the impact of a net migration of zero in 2022 would have reduced GDP, lowered tax receipts and reduced public spending.

The next prime minister will be either Sunak and Starmer. So with both sides pledging to bring down net migration and both unveiling plans to curb small boat crossings, here is where the two leaders stand ahead of this summer’s election.

The Conservative Party hopes that the combination of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 and the Rwanda policy will deter people who are coming to the UK. But numbers have remained stubbornly high in the first months of this year.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill became law in April, meaning that people who arrive in the UK illegally will be sent to Rwanda, where if their application is successful, they can be granted refugee status and allowed to settle, with no possibility of returning to the UK.

Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak visits Leander Rowing Club, in Henley-on-Thames, England, on June 3, 2024 during a campaign event in the build-up to the UK general election on July 4.  (Photo by Carl Court / POOL / AFP) (Photo by CARL COURT/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak pictured on the campaign trail. (AFP via Getty Images)

In government, the Conservatives increased cooperation with France to intercept small boats before they reach British waters, and signed an agreement with the EU to deal with smuggler gangs.

But government efforts to reduce the backlog of asylum claims have failed to curb the amount being spent, with the Home Office expecting to spend £3.1bn on hotels for asylum support in the year to March 2024.

Labour has pledged to abolish the Conservative's Rwanda policy, although it has not given a timescale for doing so.

Starmer has said: “We’re not keeping the Rwanda policy in place. It doesn’t work, it won’t work, and we don’t believe in it.”

Labour has pointed to the fact that record numbers of asylum seekers have reached Britain via small boat since the Bill was passed - and that the Rwanda plan will cost £2m per person for 300 people removed.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JUNE 3: Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, speaks during an event at The Fusilier Museum in Bury on June 3, 2024 in Manchester, England. The Leader of the Labour Party and the Shadow Defence Secretary delivered speeches on the party's commitment to protecting national security during an event honouring military veterans' stories ahead of the 80th anniversary of D-Day on 6 June. (Photo by Cameron Smith/Getty Images)
Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer on the campaign trail (Photo by Cameron Smith/Getty Images)

Instead, Labour wants to spend the money on enforcement activity and a crackdown on the criminal people-smuggling gangs.

Labour announced a policy to establish a new Border Security Command to target the gangs, as well as increasing security cooperation with the EU, and negotiating a deal to return asylum seekers to EU countries.

On 4 June, the Conservatives unveiled an election pledge to place an annual cap on worker and family visas in their efforts to ensure immigration figures fall year on year.

The annual cap would be imposed on the number of visas that can be granted to those coming to the UK on work or family routes.

Temporary work routes, such as seasonal agricultural workers, would not fall within the cap.

Sunak said: “We have taken bold action to cut the number of people coming to this country. The plan is working but migration levels are still too high, so we are going further.

Recent changes also include saying, from March 2024, care workers can no longer bring dependents to the UK. The minimum salary for a Skilled Worker visa rose from £26,200 to £38,700 in April 2024, while, in January 2024, the government restricted most overseas students from bringing family members to the UK, a policy Labour has said it will retain.

The Conservatives have also announced a crackdown on ‘rogue recruitment agencies’ and universities who accept international students.

Labour has pledged to reduce net migration (which stood at 685,000 in the year to December 2023) - although, like the Conservatives, it has not set a target.

Starmer has accused the Conservatives of failing to get the number down, after net migration hit a record high of 764,000 in 2022.

He vowed to target businesses who "exploit the migration system", saying:: ‘"With Labour, Britain will be less reliant on migration by training more UK workers.

"The Tories have repeatedly broken their promises to bring down net migration. Since 2010, they have published four manifestos promising to bring down net migration."

Labour has said that it will retain the ban on student dependents arriving in the UK, and the ban on care workers’ dependents.