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5 December 2023

James Cleverly’s immigration plans are unconservative

In their panic to reduce net migration, ministers are interfering in families.

By Anoosh Chakelian

James Cleverly, the new Home Secretary, is in a scramble to reduce immigration to the UK. After the record high net migration figure of 2022 was revised up to 745,000, ministers have been under pressure from Tory backbenchers to bring the numbers down. The government now says it will stop employers paying overseas workers in shortage occupations 20 per cent less than British employees, raise the minimum salary threshold for skilled migrants from £26,200 to £38,700 and stop care staff bringing family with them to the UK.

These measures are not as dramatic as they sound. Health and care workers, teachers and other public sector workers on national pay scales are exempt from the raised salary threshold, after all. And the government can still put whatever jobs it likes onto the shortage occupation list (which has looser visa requirements than the criteria for skilled migrants).

Where the government appears to have overreached is into the lives of families. Banning care staff from bringing dependants is hardly likely to somehow conjure up a new workforce of single individuals from abroad. Instead, it is more likely to mean people coming to join this already ragged workforce are miserable, lonelier and less well-supported.

For the “party of family” and of individual freedom – with the influential bloc of New Conservative MPs advocating for the cohesion and protection of family as central to British society – this is politically incoherent.

Under the new plans, British citizens and those already settled in Britain will also need to earn £38,700 if they want to bring a spouse or family member from outside the country to join them. This is a huge rise from the current threshold of £18,600. Again, interfering so drastically with people’s relationships and family units is rather unconservative.

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Ultimately, these reforms introduce misery and meddling into family life while doing little to reduce the stream of foreign workers coming to fill our short-staffed sectors – which is what right-wing backbenchers are fed up with.

Government insiders know net migration is likely to fall in the next few years, once the post-Covid rebound in international students calms down, and the Ukraine and Hong Kong refugee schemes are no longer part of the calculation. If they are still in government when this happens, Conservative ministers will use this week’s panicked plans to take credit. But all they’ve done is to make life more painful both for Brits and the migrants their post-Brexit points-based system calculates the country so badly needs.

[See also: It only gets worse for Rishi Sunak]

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