In a significant policy shift, the UK Government under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, has announced measures designed to drastically reduce legal migration. Home Secretary James Cleverly announced that these measures are expected to cut annual arrivals by at least 300,000.
The new measures include raising the minimum income threshold for migrants to settle in the UK from 26,200 to over 38,700 pounds sterling. In addition, non-British workers in the social care sector will be charged over 1,000 pounds annually for access to the National Health Service (NHS). This comes alongside a prohibition against these workers bringing their families to the UK. Furthermore, the possibility for employers to hire foreigners at wages 20% lower than the minimum in stressed sectors like construction and education has been eliminated.
Context of the Measures
This policy change comes in the wake of historically high levels of migration. Net migration reached 745,000 in 2022, twice the amount in 2016 before the Brexit referendum. Migration from the European Union (EU) has decreased since Brexit, turning negative with 86,000 EU citizens leaving between June 2022 and June 2023. This decrease has been offset by an increase in arrivals from Africa and Asia, particularly from Nigeria, India, China, and Pakistan.
Departure from Previous Stance
The changes mark a significant departure from Boris Johnson's relatively liberal post-Brexit immigration policy, which allowed students and work visa holders to bring relatives and made salary floor exemptions for jobs in priority sectors. The shift in policy has sparked criticism from opposition parties, trade unions, and even senior members of the Conservative Party, who warn of potential negative impacts on essential sectors such as health and social care.