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Key immigration takeaways from the Conservative manifesto

Posted on 11 June 2024

The Conservatives have today published their manifesto ahead of the upcoming election on 4 July. In terms of immigration, as expected, their pledges focus on reducing migration to the UK through bringing an end to illegal migration and restricting legal migration.

Legal migration

  • Introduce a cap on migration for work and family visas: The manifesto pledges to reduce net migration by introducing a cap which will be set on the number of work and family visas issued. It would be interesting to see an indication of how this cap would work practically. For example, is it to be an annual cap covering all work and family visas or individual caps for each immigration route? Moreover, would it mean that people who don't apply for a visa in the first part of the year may risk seeing the cap reached and have to wait until the following year? This would make it difficult for businesses to plan recruitment strategies and for families to plan their relocation. There may also be difficulties in successfully implementing such a policy in practice, particularly if this is to include limiting the rights of British citizens to bring their family to the UK directly impacting their ability to enjoy family rights in the UK.
  • Raise the Skilled Worker threshold and family income requirement with inflation automatically: The minimum income requirement for family visas was already controversially raised by the Conservatives in April of this year (now £29,000 up from £18,600). This is the requirement that British citizens must have a certain level or income/savings in order to sponsor their non-British partner to live with them in the UK. This particular change is the subject of ongoing litigation in the courts and so may be subject to review, irrespective of whichever government is in power. Under the Conservatives, they have said that they plan to increase the minimum income threshold further, rising to around £38,700 in early 2025 if they remain in office. The minimum salary threshold for the Skilled Worker visa was raised to £38,700 from April of this year, and has already had a notable impact on some businesses, including reportedly leading to several major UK employers rescinding job offers to overseas graduates.
  • Requiring migrants to undergo a health check in advance of travel and increasing their Immigration Health Surcharge ("IHS") or requiring them to buy health insurance if they are likely to be a burden on the NHS: The IHS was already significantly increased earlier this year. Moreover, TB testing is already a requirement for nationals from specific countries prior to entering the UK. The suggestion to make health insurance a mandatory requirement is an interesting new proposal, as it is likely to be similar in amount to the IHS, but could mean that the NHS is not burdened. It remains to be seen what form any health check would take and how they see this as being of long-term benefit to the NHS.  
  • Increase all visa fees and remove the student discount to the Immigration Health Surcharge to raise more money for public services: Visa fees are increased in general every year in any event. It is unclear if the intention of this proposal is to implement a deliberately restrictive financial barrier. Visa fees have already seen a significant hike in the past year alone. For example, Home Office application fees for work and visit visas were increased by 15% in 2023 and the main rate of the IHS was increased by 66% at the start of this year, as well as the tripling of fines for employers and landlords who allow illegal migrants to work for them or rent their properties.   

Illegal migration, asylum and refugees

  • Deter illegal migration and boat crossings by permanently removing illegal migrants to Rwanda, with flights starting this July: The Government's Rwanda policy has been consistently litigated for years. The Supreme Court has already previously declared the scheme to be unlawful and there is ongoing litigation which may mean that the Government has further hurdles to overcome in getting the scheme off the ground. The Conservatives have said they will consider removing the UK from the ECHR if this becomes a barrier to the Rwanda policy. It's interesting to note that while the Conservatives have said that the Rwanda policy will deter people from coming to the UK to claim asylum, the effectiveness of such a deterrent remains to be seen; the number of small boat crossings to the UK in the first quarter of 2024 currently remains high (and according to some reports, at their highest levels ever).  
  • Bringing the Illegal Migration Act into force and clearing the asylum backlog, with all claims processed in six months: The level of staffing required to clear the asylum backlog would necessitate a substantial increase in the recruitment of caseworkers, which has not been mentioned as part of this manifesto policy. More than 175,000 people were waiting for a decision on their asylum application as at the end of June 2023 – up 44% from 2022, according to Home Office figures.   
  • Reform asylum rules, holding an international summit and working with other countries to reform international laws to make them fit for an age of mass migration: It has always been a problem that individuals can only claim asylum in the UK once they have entered the UK, and consideration of an option for a visa category to allow people to apply for asylum from overseas, and have their claims decided ahead of travel, would be food for thought. However, it's important to take into account that the purpose of asylum has been to protect those in desperate need, and should not be restricted in location of application. The Refugee Convention is the cornerstone of international refugee law. It has been in place since 1951 and was an internationally agreed set of legal protections implemented in the aftermath of the World Wars. If the Conservative's intention is to amend the Refugee Convention, it remains to be seen what the international appetite for this would be. This would be a significant departure from a long-established practice and any changes would likely be subject to protracted negotiations.
  • Give parliament control of how many places the UK offers on safe and legal routes to support those in genuine need from around the world, with a cap based on the capacity of local areas: In light of the Government's commitment to hele those in genuine need (such as nationals of Ukraine) it remains to be seen how a cap on numbers would be practically implemented and the level of need assessed.
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