James Cleverly has pledged to deliver the biggest ever reduction in net migration, unveiling a package of measures that he said would cut the number of arrivals by 300,000.
The Home Secretary set out a five-point plan, which mirrored proposals put forward by Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, and Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, in a move designed to head off a revolt by Right-wing Tory MPs over record migration figures.
Foreign care workers will be banned from bringing family members into the UK, the salary threshold required for skilled foreign workers to get a visa will rise to £38,700, and the scheme allowing companies to pay overseas staff 20 per cent below the going rate in shortage areas will be scrapped.
Rishi Sunak and Mr Cleverly are under pressure from Right-wing MPs to adopt an equally hardline approach to illegal migration and exempt deportation flights to Rwanda from domestic and international human rights laws.
A new treaty is expected to be signed with Rwanda on Tuesday, with Mr Cleverly flying to Kigali.
It will be followed by the publication of emergency legislation aimed at securing flights to Rwanda by the spring after they were declared unlawful by the Supreme Court.
Most Conservative MPs welcomed the tougher measures on net migration on Monday night, as did Mrs Braverman – but she also said the package was “too late, and the Government can go further”.
Unveiling the five-point plan in the Commons, Mr Cleverly said the measures, combined with a previously announced ban on masters students bringing in some 150,000 relatives a year, represented “the biggest ever reduction in net migration”.
He said it would be introduced next spring and cut the number coming to the UK by 300,000 – about a quarter of the 1.2 million people who arrived in Britain last year.
“Enough is enough. Immigration policy must be fair, legal and sustainable,” he said, echoing Mrs Braverman’s previous criticism of record migration figures.
“Migration to this country is far too high – and needs to come down. Today, we are taking more robust action than any government before in order to bring this down. Since my first day in the Home Office just three weeks ago, I have been determined to crack down on those who try to jump the queue and exploit our immigration system.”
It comes after net migration hit a record high of 745,000 in the year to last December, three times its pre-Brexit level of 239,000, before dropping to 672,000 in the year to June. In their 2019 manifesto, the Tories committed to reducing net migration.
The Home Office estimates the ban on overseas care workers bringing dependants to the UK will cut immigration numbers by 100,000. Some 100,000 care workers brought in 120,000 dependants into the UK in the year to September, of which three-quarters were unemployed and reliant on public services.
The minimum salary required for a foreign skilled worker to come to Britain will increase from the current £26,200 a year to £38,700 from next spring, in line with the median wage.
This is predicted to cut immigration by 50,000, but health and social care visas will be exempted so that the NHS and care homes can still recruit from abroad at rates as low as £20,900.
The shortage occupation list, under which companies can pay foreign workers in shortage areas 20 per cent below the going rate, will be scrapped.
The Government migration advisory committee (MAC) – which has previously recommended scrapping the list – has been asked to develop an alternative scheme with fewer occupations and higher pay thresholds for shortage jobs.
The minimum income required for a worker in Britain to bring a spouse or dependant into the UK on a family visa will be raised from £18,600 to £38,700, the same as the skilled salary threshold. There will be a right of appeal where applicants can show “exceptional” reasons.
Mr Cleverly said he had also asked the MAC to review the graduate route, under which foreign students can remain in the UK for two years without the need to work once they have completed their undergraduate or postgraduate degree courses.
The MAC opposed the scheme because of concerns that foreign students would use it as a back door into the jobs market, given that they could get two years’ work for the price of a one-year masters course.
“It needs to work in the best interests of the UK, supporting the pathway into high-quality jobs for global talent but reducing any opportunities for abuse,” said Mr Cleverly.
Mrs Braverman said the package was a “step in the right direction” but warned that there needed to be an annual cap on overall immigration, set by Parliament across all visa routes, and a shorter time limit than two years on the graduate visa.
Danny Kruger, the Tory MP who co-chairs the New Conservatives group, which called for the £38,000 salary threshold, said he was “delighted” that the measure had been adopted.
Tim Loughton, a Tory MP on the Commons home affairs committee, welcomed most of the proposals and stressed the need to make sure the new rules were not abused. Sir John Hayes, a prominent Tory backer of Mrs Braverman, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “The Government has finally, it seems to me, seen sense.”
Notably, Labour did not vow to overturn the policies, with Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, instead accusing the Government of “chaos” and “veering all over the place”.
There was anger from trade unions representing the health sector, which is facing workplace shortages and will be impacted by the tighter visa regime. Christina McAnea, the general secretary of the Unison union, said the changes would “spell total disaster for the NHS and social care” and called the policies “cruel” and “disastrous”.
Mr Sunak’s decision to adopt the tough package comes as he faces pressure to turn around the Conservatives’ poor opinion poll ratings with the general election looming closer.
An 18-month analysis of polling by JL Partners found that more 2019 Tory voters are planning to abandon the party under him than had done under Liz Truss, his predecessor.
Just 59 per cent of Conservative voters at the last election plan to vote for the party again, down from 63 per cent in the wake of Ms Truss’s misfiring mini-Budget.
Many of those going elsewhere were found to be backing Reform, the political party to the Right of the Tories, which has picked up support in recent months.
Tory strategists have identified a tough stance on immigration as one of the most potent potential dividing lines with Labour at the next election, which must be held by January 2025.
The Prime Minister is being urged by Mr Jenrick and other Tories on the Right to adopt the most hardline option on Rwanda. The “full-fat” version would include a “notwithstanding” clause in the legislation to direct British courts to ignore the European Convention on Human Rights on asylum cases.
A less controversial option would disapply the UK Human Rights Act on asylum claims, and the least controversial option would simply state that Rwanda is a “safe country”.
The Treaty to be signed by Mr Cleverly in Kigali is designed to counter the main criticism by the Supreme Court by including a legal guarantee that Rwanda will not deport any migrants who are relocated under the scheme.