How will James Cleverly deliver the biggest ever reduction in net migration?

Home secretary says drastic reforms will 'curb abuse' of the UK's immigration system

James Cleverly leaning on a No Entry sign next to Doberman
The government has faced pressure from the Conservative Party to act on immigration as new figures show it has reached record levels
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images)

James Cleverly has pledged to deliver the "biggest ever" cut in net migration, unveiling a package of measures he says will cut the number of arrivals to the UK by 300,000.

Yesterday, the home secretary announced a five-point plan to reduce legal immigration and "curb abuse" of the UK system. And today Cleverly was in Kigali to sign a treaty with Rwanda that the UK government says addresses the concerns of the Supreme Court and will guarantee the safety of asylum seekers who are sent there.

The government has come under pressure to act after Office for National Statistics figures showed that UK net migration reached a record 745,000 in 2022.

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Under the new plans, the minimum salary needed for skilled overseas workers will be raised from £26,200 to £38,700 – an almost 50% increase. The minimum income for family visas will also rise to £38,700. 

Health and social care visas will be exempt from the new higher threshold, in order to meet NHS staffing needs, but care workers will no longer be able to bring dependents to the UK.

And the "shortage occupation" list will also be reformed, with an end to companies being able to pay foreign workers only 80% of the usual "going rate" to fill a position – a measure that had been criticised for effectively allowing employers to undercut local wages.

What the papers said

The pressure on the government to act on migration has been "enormous", with some Tory MPs warning the issue was "do or die" for the Conservatives, said the BBC's political correspondent Harry Farley. Many Tory MPs are fearful that Nigel Farage's party, Reform UK, could well "damage their prospects at the next election", with the party now polling around 10%. 

Net migration has certainly been an "accountability pinch point" for the Tories, "hence the anguish of many Conservative MPs attempting to reconcile a number treble the one they promised to cut four years ago", added the BBC's political editor Chris Mason. But for ministers, this new plan is about "showing they get it and that plenty want to see the numbers shrivel". But questions remain over whether these policies can bring numbers down, and if so, when that is likely to happen.

Amid the "uproar" over migration figures, "some appear to have forgotten there were particular reasons why the number was so high", with refugees coming here through legal routes escaping from the war in Ukraine, or "communist tyranny" in Hong Kong, said The Scotsman. There were also a large number of foreign students coming to the UK's world-renowned universities as well as people who came to the UK on working visas "to help plug gaps in sectors experiencing vacancy crises, like health and social care".

It is "better if job vacancies in the UK are filled by people already living here", the paper continued, but "putting obstacles in the way of overseas workers despite prolonged, serious shortages will only damage the economy" as well as "increase the considerable pressure on existing NHS and social care staff".

These new immigration measures are a "proportionate response", said The Times in its leading article, "but there are malcontents on the Conservative backbenches for whom it is not enough". Those MPs, former prime minister Boris Johnson among them, "should beware impossible demands and undeliverable promises", warned the paper. The job of the government is to "control numbers without damaging the economy, which more draconian measures would certainly do".

What next?

The focus of the new measures announced by the home secretary yesterday was to find ways to bring down legal migration to the UK. But the government is also under pressure from the Conservative right to "adopt an equally hardline approach to illegal migration", said The Telegraph

The home secretary was in Rwanda today to sign a new treaty with the east African nation, after the government's plan to send asylum seekers there was halted last month by a UK Supreme Court ruling, which found the plan to be unlawful

The new treaty will aim to address the ruling and it "paves the way" for Cleverly to introduce emergency legislation in Parliament to try to revive the controversial policy, said the Financial Times

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