The UK government is set to announce a series of measures aimed at reducing the unprecedented levels of legal migration in the country. Home Secretary James Cleverly is expected to reveal these new policies in a speech to the Commons, addressing concerns over the rising number of skilled foreign workers and the strain on the health and social care sector. This article will explore the proposed changes and their potential impact.
One of the key measures in the government’s plan is a significant increase in the minimum salary requirement for skilled foreign workers. Currently set at £26,200, the government is considering raising it to a figure over £35,000. This move is intended to ensure that only highly skilled individuals are able to migrate to the UK in order to fill gaps in the job market. However, critics argue that this could lead to a shortage of workers in certain industries, particularly those that heavily rely on foreign expertise.
The government’s proposal also includes scaling back health and social care visas. In the year ending September 2023, a staggering 143,990 health and care worker visas were granted, more than double the previous year. This influx of foreign workers has been crucial in addressing the ongoing workforce crisis in the NHS. However, in an attempt to reduce migration levels, the government may limit the number of health and social workers allowed to bring dependents to the UK. Such limitations could have serious implications for the already strained healthcare system.
In addition to the aforementioned measures, the government plans to overhaul the shortage occupation list. This list allows foreign workers to be paid 20% below the going rate in roles that suffer from a shortage of skilled workers. According to sources, the government intends to “widely scrub” the list, meaning that exceptions will be limited, and a higher bar will be set for inclusion. While this move may help protect the rights of domestic workers, it could also exacerbate staffing shortages in certain sectors.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has faced criticism from within his own party due to the record-breaking levels of migration, which contradict the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto pledge to reduce numbers. The revised estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that net migration to the UK in the year to December 2022 reached an all-time high of 745,000. In response, the Prime Minister has vowed to “do what is necessary” to bring these numbers down. The pressure to address the issue has come from Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, who has proposed a five-point plan that includes a cap on health and social care visas and a higher minimum salary threshold.
In addition to tackling legal migration, the government is also seeking to address the deportation scheme, which has been deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court. Home Secretary James Cleverly is close to finalizing a treaty with Rwanda that would salvage the scheme by addressing the judges’ concerns. The plan, first announced in April 2022, involves sending individuals who arrive in the UK on small boats to Rwanda instead of granting them asylum in the UK. However, the Supreme Court expressed concerns over the potential violation of international law if individuals were sent back to their countries of origin. The proposed treaty aims to make the plan legally watertight and could open the path for British lawyers to be sent to courts in Rwanda.
The deportation scheme is seen as crucial to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s promise to “stop the boats.” The number of people crossing the English Channel in small boats in 2023 has already surpassed the total arrivals in 2021, making this year the second-highest on record. As of December 2nd, Home Office figures show that 28,972 migrants have been detected crossing the channel, compared to 28,395 in the entirety of 2021. Despite the decrease of 34% compared to the previous year, the numbers remain concerning and highlight the need for effective measures to address this issue.
The UK government’s announcement of new measures to combat record levels of legal migration reflects growing concerns over the strain on various sectors and the discrepancy between political pledges and actual outcomes. While the proposed changes aim to control numbers and prioritize skilled workers, there is a risk of exacerbating existing workforce shortages in crucial industries. As the government continues to navigate the complex issue of migration, it must strike a balance between protecting domestic workers and maintaining an inclusive and effective immigration system.