Posted on December 22, 2023

Tory Alarm as Rishi Sunak Waters Down ‘Biggest Ever’ Immigration Curbs

James Tapsfield, Daily Mail, December 22, 2023

Tories voiced alarm today after Rishi Sunak watered down measures to cut net migration – less than three weeks after they were announced.

Senior figures warned that ministers must clarify the situation ‘very quickly’ after slipping out news that the minimum income for bringing a foreign relative to Britain will only rise to £29,000 rather than the £38,700 previously suggested.

A document released by the Home Office last night also warned the change could lead to a surge in the number of UK-based families bringing legal challenges under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

It said more applicants could launch claims under Article 8, the ‘right to private and family life’, if they were prevented from bringing relatives to the UK.

Opposition parties accused the government of a ‘shambles’ and ‘chaos’ over how to get numbers under control.

Mr Cleverly vowed ‘enough is enough’ when he first unveiled the five-point plan designed to slash net migration by 300,000 a year.

After a battering from the Tory backbenches over annual net migration hitting a record 745,000, the Home Secretary said it would lead to the ‘biggest ever reduction in net migration’.

Emphasising the scale of his reforms, he told MPs on December 4: ‘We will ensure that people bring only dependants whom they can support financially, by raising the minimum income for family visas to the same threshold as the minimum salary threshold for skilled workers, which is £38,700.

‘The minimum income requirement is currently £18,600 and has not been increased since 2012.’

By comparison, yesterday’s document said: ‘As part of a staged implementation, an initial increase to … £29,000 will be enacted initially.’

It added: ‘Some applicants may still be granted permission if a refusal would result in a breach of Article 8 ECHR and they then meet an exceptional circumstances test.

‘While currently only several hundred such claims are made a year it is likely a greater proportion of people will no longer meet the threshold based on earnings alone and rely on their Article 8 rights.

‘The proportion of those that would be successful is uncertain.’

Tory MP Sir John Hayes told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning he had been assured the policy was still in place, but insisted there needs to be a firm table for hitting the £38,700 minimum.

‘The policy remains to increase the threshold to £38,000, what they’re talking about is implementing it in phases,’ he said.

‘So first to go to £29,000 then to £34,500 then to £38,700. Now the key thing about that is phases mustn’t take long.’

He added: ‘What they haven’t said is when, so what I’m saying is that needs to be done very quickly because you need certainty, you need certainty for individuals, certainty for employers.

‘And if we’re going to £38,700, which seems to be very sensible, then that needs to be done with speed so that people know where they stand.’

Jonathan Gullis, a Conservative former minister and supporter of tighter migration controls, wrote on X: ‘Legal migration to the UK is too high and unsustainable.

‘That is why the Government was right to introduce tough and necessary new measures to get numbers down, and demonstrate control of our borders.

‘This decision is deeply disappointing and undermines our efforts.’

Miriam Cates MP, co-chairman of the New Conservatives grouping of Right-wing Tory backbenchers, expressed reservations about the change.

‘Reducing the threshold for spousal visas so soon after promising a crackdown does not bode well,’ she said.

‘Immigration into the UK is far, far too high, putting pressure on our economy, public services and our democracy.

‘In order to bring numbers down, the Government has to take decisive action, limiting the number of visas given out to foreign workers, students and dependants.’

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the change was ‘more evidence of Tory government chaos on immigration and the economy’.

She added: ‘On their watch, net migration has trebled as skills shortages have got worse and worse – and they still have no proper plan to link the immigration system to training or workforce planning.

‘They failed to consult anyone on their new proposals and took no account of the impact of steep spousal visa changes on families next year, so it’s no surprise they are now rowing back in a rush.’

The visa allows UK-based families to bring overseas relatives to the UK if they can meet financial requirements.

In the year ending September a total of 82,395 family-related visas were granted – 65,278 to partners and 10,397 to children, with the remaining 6,720 listed as ‘other’ types of relatives.

When Mr Cleverly announced the £38,700 figure an immigration campaign group, Reunite Families, described it as ‘cruel’.

At the same time, Dr Madeleine Sumption of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory also described the increase in the family visa income threshold as ‘the biggest surprise of the day, and one of the parts of the package …that could have the most significant impacts on individuals’.