Posted on November 30, 2023

Rishi Sunak Risks Escalating Migration Row With Comments on Visa Rules

Nick Gutteridge, The Telegraph, November 27, 2023

Rishi Sunak has said that generous visa rules make Britain the “best country in the world” for businesses, risking a fresh migration row with Tory MPs.

The Prime Minister said that the country does not “have a monopoly on talent” and that liberal border restrictions, especially for graduates, were essential for economic growth.

His remarks come amid anger from Conservative MPs about record levels of net migration, which is estimated to have hit 745,000 in the year to last December.

They also risk sparking a Cabinet rift with Kemi Badenoch, the Business and Trade Secretary, who insisted on Monday morning that she would push for “the strongest measures possible” to bring down net migration.

Mr Sunak praised the contribution of immigrants to Britain’s economy during a speech to the UK’s second Global Investment Summit, held at Hampton Court Palace on Monday.

‘Skilled international talent’

He told assembled business leaders: “In the end the greatest asset to any economy is its people and that’s the UK’s first competitive advantage.

“But we don’t have a monopoly on talent in this country and we recognise that nearly half of our most innovative companies have an immigrant founder.

“So if you’re an innovator, an entrepreneur, a researcher, you should know that the most competitive visa regime for highly skilled international talent is right here in the UK.”

Mr Sunak praised a new “high potential individual visa”, which allows graduates from global top 50 universities to move to Britain with their families for a two-year period.

He added: “Nothing like that exists anywhere else in the world and it tells you everything about our pro-innovation, pro-growth, pro-business philosophy.

“So that’s the opportunity here in the UK and that’s why you should believe me when I say this is the best country in the world to invest and do business.”

The Prime Minister is coming under pressure from Tory MPs and some of his own Cabinet for his liberal approach to legal migration in the pursuit of economic growth.

Mr Sunak had earlier conceded that levels of net migration “are too high” and said they “need to come down to more sustainable levels”.

He told Sky News: “We need to do more. I’ve already taken action to tighten the number of dependents that students can bring when they come and study here.

“That measure that I took represents the single biggest measure to bring down legal migration that anyone’s ever taken.

“But of course as we need to do more and where there are abuses of the system we’ll of course act on it because the levels do need to come down.”

Mrs Badenoch is among those pushing for a harder line and on Monday publicly backed the idea of raising the salary threshold for skilled migrant visas.

She told LBC: “I certainly will be pushing for the strongest measures possible. The migration figures that we have seen were from last year, that was under prime minister Boris Johnson.

“Many of us had reservations about the policy then, so I think that you will be seeing much, much tougher measures going forward.”

Robert Jenrick, the Immigration Minister, is also said to be uncomfortable with levels of migration and is pushing for a curb on dependents to bring down numbers.

It comes after Tory MPs were angered by an interview by James Cleverly, the new Home Secretary, in which he said that the Government’s Rwanda policy was not the “be all and end all”.

Labour piled further pressure on Mr Sunak during the weekend by pledging to bring down net migration to “a couple of hundred thousand a year” if it wins the election.