Home Secretary James Cleverly unveils new bid to curb record migration

Minimum £38k salary to get a visa, squeeze on health workers bringing family, and an overhaul of ‘shortage occupation’ list: Home Secretary James Cleverly unveils new bid to get a grip on record immigration as Tories panic about election fallout

James Cleverly unveiled a new crackdown on record legal migration today amid Tory panic that huge inflows could doom their election chances.

The Home Secretary is outlining a package to the Commons including hiking the minimum salary for getting a UK skilled worker visa from around £26,000 to £38,000.

He is also set to launch a squeeze on foreign health workers bringing family, and a shake-up of the shortage occupation list that will stop people being hired on salaries below the going rate for Brits.

Mr Cleverly said net migration is ‘far too high’ and the latest announcements underline that the Tories are is doing more than ‘any other government’ to cut it.

‘People are understandably worried about housing, about GP appointments… when they can see their communities growing and growing quickly,’ Mr Cleverly said. 

Ministers have been frantically thrashing out details of the clampdown after the annual net migration reached an eye-watering new record of 745,000.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has been privately pushing for even tougher action, backed by his former boss Suella Braverman and many Tory MPs.

However, Mr Sunak and Mr Cleverly have seemed to strike a different tone up to now, suggesting that numbers are starting to ease and they have already taken radical action on student dependants. 

Home Secretary James Cleverly is outlining a package to the Commons including hiking the minimum salary for getting a UK skilled worker visa from around £26,000 to £38,000 

There is frantic work taking place on how to curb legal net migration, after the annual level reached an eye-watering record of 745,000

A BMG Research poll for the i newspaper has shown Reform UK – headed by Nigel Farage and Richard Tice – on its highest ever support at 11 per cent

 The closely-watched ConservativeHome survey of activists suggests  Rishi Sunak has slumped to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings

Bombshell data at the end of last month showed net migration was 1.3million over the past two years.

Revised ONS figures showed the total was 745,000 in 2022 – roughly the population of Leeds.

The data places migration levels at three times higher than before Brexit, despite a Conservative Party 2019 manifesto pledge to bring overall numbers down.

At that point the level was around 240,000. 

For the year to June 2023 net migration was slightly lower at 672,000, with the ONS pointing to evidence that numbers were easing.

Some of the increase has been attributed to humanitarian inflows from Hong Kong, Ukraine and Afghanistan. But rises in numbers of workers and dependants have also driven the total.

The population of England and Wales has now passed 60million for the first time after growing at the fastest rate since 1962.

Under existing rules, posts on the shortage occupation list can be filled by foreign workers paid 20 per cent less than the official ‘going rate’ in the UK.

But the system has been widely criticised for being too generous, covering ballet dancers and ‘arts officers’ alongside jobs such as care worker, engineer and bricklayer. 

But the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) and Labour have called for the salary discount for foreign workers to be abolished.   

Tory fears are mounting that huge immigration is driving voters into the arms of Reform UK as ministers squabble over the details of a crackdown.

A poll has shown the party headed by Nigel Farage and Richard Tice recording its highest ever support at 11 per cent.

The BMG Research study suggested that the four-point increase was at the expense of the Conservatives, who were down three points.

The finding – which will heighten concerns about a split in the right-wing vote at the looming election – comes as a closely-watched survey of activists indicated Rishi Sunak has slumped to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings. 

Tory MP Sir John Hayes welcomed the planned package of measures to tackle legal migration and played down the impact on social care.

The ally of Suella Braverman told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: ‘The Government has finally, it seems to me, seen sense.

‘You can’t have 1.3 million people entering the country over two years without catastrophic consequences.’

He added: ‘There’s been a naivety on the part of some of the people advising government but actually that’s now been put aside and we’re seeing sense, we’re doing the right thing by the British people.’

Asked about the impact on social care, he said it was ‘not that complicated’.

Pressed on a solution to a lack of workers, he said: ‘The solution is to employ British workers for British jobs. It’s not that complicated.’

Alongside the legal migration crackdown, the government is desperately trying to finalise the details of a squeeze on illicit routes.

Mr  Cleverly is set to travel to Rwanda within days to seal a new treaty on deporting Channel boat arrivals.

Meanwhile, ministers are still working on ‘watertight’ emergency legislation that can overcome the objections of the Supreme Court to Rishi Sunak’s much-vaunted policy.

Insiders say the PM is determined to make the new law ‘very robust’ – but there is significantly resistance within government to overriding human rights laws.

Mr Sunak is also expected to authorise millions more pounds to be given to Rwanda to improve its asylum system, one of the key points made by the Supreme Court.

It comes as the latest figures show 1,264 would-be refugees braved icy conditions to cross the Channel in the past week, including 519 on Saturday alone.

The number of illegal migrants reaching the UK this year is now believed to have topped the 28,526 recorded in 2021 – although arrivals are still a third down on the record set last year.

The government is overhauling the controversial shortage occupation list, which covered ballet dancers and ‘arts officers’ as well as bricklayers  

Ministers are facing mounting pressure to act after net migration hit a shocking new record of 745,000 in a year. The rise since 2020 has been driven by arrivals from outside the EU

Humanitarian routes from Ukraine, Hong Kong and Afghanistan contributed to the sharp rise in numbers, although the effects have faded. Work routes and study routes have been the main drivers in the past two years

Studying and work dominate the reasons for non-EU citizens coming to the UK, while numbers of dependants has been rising  

In 2022 care workers and home carers became eligible for health visas, which now dominate the work visa route

This chart shows the countries of origin of those coming to the UK for health roles

 The number of dependants accompanying people on work visas has been rising sharply

The ONS has pointed to an uptick in emigration as a possible sign that net migration will come down

The BMG Research polling, for the i newspaper, found Labour’s lead had extended to 16 points, on 43 per cent to 27 per cent for the Tories.

Reform UK had gone from just 7 per cent in mid-October to 11 per cent at the end of last month. That was above the Lib Dems on 10 per cent, and the highest ever detected by BMG. 

Worryingly for Mr Sunak, he has also tumbled to the foot of the regular ConservativeHome Cabinet rankings. His rating on the panel of activists now stands at minus 25.4.

Mr Cleverly has also seen his standing plunge, going from top to well down the bottom half. Kemi Badenoch is now leading the pack. 

The PM announced his new Rwanda approach last month after the Supreme Court dealt a fatal blow to the original plan by ruling that there were ‘substantial grounds’ to believe people put on a one-way flight could be sent on to other countries where they would be unsafe.

The Plan B comprises three parts: a treaty with Rwanda, emergency legislation to declare the country is safe, and a bundle of evidence explaining why anyone sent there would not be mistreated.

There has been intense debate in the Tory party over how far the Bill should go, with more than 20 MPs on the Right demanding what is now known as a ‘full fat’ option.

This would include so-called ‘notwithstanding’ clauses, allowing the Government to ignore the UK’s Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in asylum cases as well as removing the right of migrants to challenge their deportation through judicial review.

Channel migrants being brought ashore in Kent over the weekend

JL Partners research has highlighted an uptick in Tory voters saying they are switching to Reform UK

A less hardline approach would override human rights law while still allowing challenges by individuals.

But there are concerns that ministers are receiving advice from officials including government lawyers who say they cannot do anything they feel would breach the Civil Service Code such as ignoring human rights laws.

‘It’s anathema to them,’ said one insider. ‘They will say ‘I don’t want to be the lawyer who does this’.

‘Because Mr Cleverly has only been in his new role as Home Secretary for a few weeks, Attorney General Victoria Prentis is playing a major role looking through the draft Bill.

She is understood to have warned that disapplying the ECHR would be unlawful.

A government source said: ‘As the PM said, the British people want action and their patience has been stretched. The Government is up for taking robust measures, providing they work.’ 

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