Posted on December 5, 2023

Sunak to Unveil Major Package of Measures to Slash Net Migration

Charles Hymas and Ben Riley-Smith, The Telegraph, December 4, 2023

Rishi Sunak is to unveil a major package of measures on Monday to slash record levels of net migration, including a big increase in the salary threshold for foreign workers.

The Prime Minister has bowed to pressure from Cabinet ministers and MPs for a significant rise in the minimum salary required for a foreign skilled worker to come to Britain from its current level of £26,200.

It is understood the new figure will be £38,000 a year – higher than the £35,000 proposed by Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, which is also the current median salary.

The move goes far further than anticipated and effectively revives the pre-Brexit immigration system, under which skilled foreign workers largely required degrees.

Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, claimed Mr Sunak agreed to a £40,000 salary threshold as part of a deal to secure her support during the second Tory leadership election. She and Mr Jenrick are understood to have pushed for a figure of up to £45,000.

One senior Whitehall source familiar with the scale of the announcements told The Telegraph: “People will be surprised at how strong a package it is.”

Mr Sunak is also believed to have accepted further proposals demanded by MPs on the Right of the Conservative Party, who have claimed the surge in net migration since Brexit has amounted to a betrayal of the party’s election pledge to voters.

Net migration hit 745,000 in the year to last December, three times its pre-Brexit level of around 240,000,blowing a hole in the Tories’ 2019 manifesto commitment to reduce overall levels of migration.

It is understood that the number of dependants that social care workers are allowed to bring into Britain will also be scaled back.

Home Office figures showed that visas granted to foreign health and social care workers more than doubled to 143,990 in the year to September. Those migrants brought in a total of 173,896 dependants.

The total number of NHS and social care visas may also be limited, as proposed by Mr Jenrick under a five-point plan to reduce net migration.

The fifth proposal is expected to increase the minimum £18,600 income required for a British citizen to bring a spouse or dependant into the UK on a family visa.

There will also be an overhaul of the shortage occupation list, under which companies can pay foreign workers in shortage areas 20 per cent below the going rate.

Sources said it would be “widely scrubbed”, with a high bar set for any exceptions. There had been concerns that ending the exemption for care workers could worsen severe shortages in the care sector.

The Prime Minister’s decision to sign off a substantial set of measures reflects in part the political pressure he is facing on net migration.

Lord Cameron promised to bring annual net migration down into the tens of thousands when he was party leader. It formed part of the platform on which the Tories came to power in the 2010 general election.

But the figure has remained stubbornly high and has soared in the wake of Brexit, which was voted for in June 2016 and took effect in January 2020.

The revised statistics, released last month, which revealed that net migration peaked at 745,000 in the year to last December – more than seven times Lord Cameron’s initial promise – prompted calls for action from Tory MPs.

Some called the new net migration figures “completely unacceptable” and demanded tough new measures to reduce numbers.

Mr Sunak has previously put much of his focus on illegal migration, making a vow to “stop the boats” one of the five central promises for his premiership.

The relaunch of Rwanda deportation flights, via a new treaty and new legislation, is also expected to be unveiled this week. James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, is expected to fly to Kigali on Monday evening to sign the treaty.

Tory election strategists see migration as a key battle line with Labour, which continues to lead the Conservatives in opinion polls by around 20 percentage points.

The next general election must be held by January 2025, but is widely expected to take place next autumn.