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Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges reforms to legal migration laws

Posted on 10 June 2024

The Liberal Democrats have published their manifesto for the upcoming election of 4 July 2024. In terms of legal migration, their commitments represent a significant and, as expected, more generous shift from the current system.

They propose to:

  • Replace the current work-based visa system with a more flexible merit-based model to address the needs of employers in every sector of the economy across the UK. This in isolation is likely to be a welcome proposal for many businesses, particularly those facing skills shortages (such as in the retail, construction, hospitality and health care sectors). In recent years, many businesses unable to recruit from the domestic labour market have struggled to fill vacancies with overseas workers. The reasons for this include the current minimum skill and salary thresholds under the Skilled Worker visa system – which is the main work visa route for the UK. The recent hiking of the minimum salary threshold for Skilled Worker visas (raised to £38,700 from April of this year), has reportedly led to some major UK employers rescinding job offers to overseas talent.
  • Expand the Youth Mobility Scheme to make it open to EU nationals on a reciprocal basis as well as other reforms. The Youth Mobility Scheme is the UK's working holiday visa route. It allows eligible nationals of certain countries to live and/or work in the UK for 2-3 years without the need to be sponsored by a particular employer/institution. Opening up the list of eligible nationalities to extend to citizens of the EU, and making such arrangements reciprocal, meaning that British 18-35 year olds could live/work in the EU for two-three years, is likely to be a welcomed by the younger population who have missed out on the benefits of free movement. It is also likely to be popular with employers as it provides a highly flexible option for short-term recruitment without the costs and administration involved in work visa sponsorship.
  • Reverse the increase to the minimum income requirement for family visas which was controversially introduced 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 by January 2025 if they remain in power.
  • Grant Settled Status (also known as permanent residence) to all EU citizens and their family members who currently have with Pre-Settled Status in the UK. Currently, those with pre-Settled Status have an expiry date on their right to remain in the UK.  To qualify for Settled Status, and thus be able to live in the UK indefinitely, they must meet certain requirements, including having been continuously resident in the UK for five years.  Whether or not those with Pre-Settled Status should be required to make a further application to the Home Office to remain in the UK indefinitely has been the subject of litigation and this suggestion is likely to be welcome by citizens' rights groups and EU citizens alike. However, it would be a significant shift from current Home Office policy which dictates strict requirements to be eligible for permanent residency in the UK.
  • Simplify the immigration rules. This has been an aim of successive Governments and would be a welcome move for all involved in immigration. However, given the complexity of the current immigration rules, it may require an overhaul of the entire system to be realised.
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