UK Conservative and Labor Parties Both Pledge to Cap Work Visas Annually to Cut Net Migration

| June 6, 2024
UK Conservative and Labor Parties Both Pledge to Cap Work Visas Annually to Cut Net Migration

To address concerns over immigration levels, the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) political parties promised to cap work visas annually.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the Conservative Party pledged to cap work and family visas yearly if re-elected in July, reported Reuters.

Temporary work routes, such as seasonal agricultural workers, would not fall within the cap.

“By capping migration numbers each year, we will ensure that public services are protected and housing is not overburdened,” he said during the debate on 3 June.

Sunak added it would also help ensure that the UK is “bringing the skills our businesses and NHS (National Health Service) need.”

The Labour Party’s Sir Kier Starmer, running against Sunak, vowed to bring down the number of work-related visas.

He aims to target employers that exploit the country’s migration system.

As per The Financial Times, Starmer plans to ban those who underpay workers and break overseas hiring rules.

The Labor Party leader also pledged to link immigration laws with skills training policy.

This will ensure that the high demand for work visas in specific sectors will lead to the training of more British workers.

Both the Conservative and Labor parties did not specify the limit of annual work visas they would allow if elected.  

The government would likely ask the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to recommend the annual cap level on work visas.

The UK Parliament would then approve it before it can be enforced.

Cutting down the UK’s net migration

Net migration is the difference between the number of people immigrating to the UK and those emigrating from it.

The country’s annual net migration reached a record high of 764,000 in December 2022.

These statistics also came with surges in health and care visas and dependant visas issued.

The Office of National Statistics’ (ONS) latest data shows that the UK’s net migration dropped 10 percent to 685,000 in 2023.

However, the data does not yet fully reflect the effect of the major migration policy changes implemented in the first four months of 2024.  

These legal migration policy changes include the following:

  • Student visa holders will not be allowed to switch to work visas until they have finished their course.
  • Care firms that plan to sponsor overseas workers must register with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to prevent exploitation and abuse within the sector.
  • Skilled Workers must meet the increased general salary threshold of £38,700.
  • The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) was replaced with the Immigration Salary List (ISL). This ensures employers cannot pay migrant workers less than British workers in shortage occupations.
  • Family visa applicants must also meet a higher minimum income requirement of £29,000. The MIR will increase to £38,700 in early 2025.
  • The UK government has also raised the annual immigration health surcharge (IHS) to £1,035 for adults. The IHS for children under 18, students, and Youth Mobility Scheme participants is now £776.

In the first four months of 2024, the UK has seen a sharp decline in Student visa dependant and Health and Care Worker visa applications.  

Overall, applications in key routes fell by 24 percent. Key routes include Skilled Worker, Health and Care Worker, and Student visas.

The Conservative government also proposed stricter rules for Student visa compliance and a crackdown on illegal student referral agents.

The UK government insists that new legal migration policies are working to reduce the country’s net migration by 300,000.

The Rwanda Act and increasing asylum seekers

Both Sunak and Starmer agree to stop the increasing number of illegal migrants arriving on small boats via the English Channel.

Sunak’s Safety of Rwanda Act aims to stop illegal migrants from illegally coming to the UK via small boats.

It was introduced in 2022 and, after many legal hurdles, was passed by the UK Parliament in April 2024.  

The law will relocate illegal migrants to the East African country starting in June.

Asylum claims of those who illegally arrived via small boats will be processed in Rwanda.

They will stay and start a new life there if their asylum claim is approved.

On the other hand, Starmer was firm in not keeping Rwanda’s policy in place.

He cited the high number of asylum seekers since the Rwanda bill was passed as making the plan expensive.  

Immigration is a worldwide issue

As the UK’s political parties weigh the pros and cons of limiting work visas, the debate over immigration policy continues.

While annual work visa caps offer a potential solution to addressing high net migration, their long-term impact on the economy and society remains uncertain.

The health, social care, IT, construction, and engineering sectors have benefited from hiring overseas workers.

Annual work visa caps could harm the economy and drive away foreign investment.

Balancing migration management and economic prosperity is crucial for shaping future UK immigration policy.

The UK is not alone in grappling with immigration challenges.

Similar policies have been implemented in other countries with varying degrees of success.