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Five-point Plan to Cut UK Immigration Raises Fears of More NHS Staff Shortages

James Cleverly has announced a package of measures designed to cut the number of migrant workers and their dependants entering the UK, making it far harder for employers to bring in overseas staff, including in the NHS and social care sector.

The home secretary presented a five-point plan in which the minimum salary requirement for a skilled worker visa would rise to £38,700, while the rule allowing the most-needed professions to be hired at 20% below the going rate would be scrapped.

The move, which the government estimates will help reduce net migration by 300,000 a year, marks an attempt by Cleverly and the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to rescue the Conservative party’s flagging reputation for controlling immigration.

But experts warn it also risks causing further chaos in the already stretched health sector and damaging the UK’s long-term growth prospects.

Cleverly told MPs on Monday that “migration is far too high and needs to come down … enough is enough”.

He added: “Today I can announce that we will go even further than those provisions already in place, with a five-point plan to further curb immigration abuses that will deliver the biggest ever reduction in net migration.

“In total, this package, plus our reduction in student dependants, will mean about 300,000 fewer people will come in future years than have come to the UK last year.”

Along with raising the salary threshold and scrapping the “shortage occupation list”, Cleverly announced that social care workers would no longer be allowed to bring their dependants when they came to work in the UK.

He also said people living in the UK – including British citizens – would now be allowed to sponsor family members to move to the UK only if the person living in the UK earned £38,700, up from £18,600 currently.

Finally, the government is asking the Migration Advisory Committee to review the rules for those who have completed undergraduate degrees in the UK.

A spokesperson for Downing Street called the package “the biggest clampdown on legal migration ever”. They added: “We believe this is a package which will enable us to significantly reduce numbers whilst achieving economic growth.”

It forms one part of a two-part plan to reduce the numbers of people coming into Britain legally and illegally. This week Cleverly is likely to fly to Kigali to sign a new asylum treaty with Rwanda, with ministers ready to bring forward new legislation in an effort to finally kickstart the government’s Rwanda plan.

Sources say Downing Street originally intended to announce a more moderate package of restrictions on legal migration but buckled under heavy pressure from Tory backbenchers and Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister.

Downing Street denied, however, that the five-point plan was the same one Jenrick had reportedly lobbied the prime minister to adopt on multiple occasions in recent weeks.

Christopher Howarth, a former adviser to the Home Office under Priti Patel, said the Treasury had vetoed precisely such moves when Sunak was chancellor because of fears it would stymie economic growth.

“These changes are the ones we urged the government to focus on 18 months ago,” Howarth said. “But they were opposed by various government departments, and especially by the Treasury.”

Taken with previous changes made to student visas, the Home Office calculates this will lead to 300,000 fewer entrants into the UK.

Modelling suggests:

  • 140,000 fewer will come through student routes.
  • 100,000 fewer will come through health and social care routes.
  • 50,000 fewer will come through other skilled worker routes.
  • Tens of thousands fewer will come as sponsored family members.

Officials are not able to say however how many of the reductions in health and social care visas will be through reductions in workers and how many through reductions in their dependants.

There are 152,000 care worker vacancies in England, and care home inspectors often have found that a lack of staff means residents receive substandard, and sometimes dangerous, levels of care.

Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, which represents large private care home providers, warned: “The government is making it harder for care providers to recruit foreign workers.

“If the government now wants to move away from international recruitment as the solution to fixing the social care workforce crisis, it must act swiftly and invest in improving the pay and conditions to drive domestic recruitment.”

Christina McAnea, the general secretary of Unison, said: “The government is playing roulette with essential services just to placate its backbenchers and the far right. But if ministers stopped ducking the difficult issues, and reformed social care as they have long promised, there wouldn’t be such a shortage of workers.”

The Conservative former minister George Eustice asked what the impact would be on the care sector and urged the government to move away from a “failed” skills-based migration policy.

He said: “Isn’t the problem with a skills-based immigration policy that it gives preferential access to bankers, to lawyers, to accountants, to economists even though we have no need for such people in this country, we have plenty here, homegrown talent, but it actually makes it very difficult to recruit the people we do need – care workers, people who work in the food industry, in manufacturing, producing things generally or indeed in the tourism industry.”

Steve Brine, the Tory chair of the health select committee, said vacancies in adult social care had fallen to 152,000 because of entrants using the shortage occupations list while there were 121,000 vacancies in the NHS in September. “Who did ministers consult ahead of today’s legal migration announcement?” he said.

The announcement goes far further than anticipated and in effect revives the pre-Brexit immigration system, when skilled non-EU workers largely required degrees.

Home Office figures showed that visas granted to foreign health and social care workers more than doubled to 143,990 in the year to September. They brought in 173,896 dependants.

The Migration Advisory Committee urged the government to scrap the shortage occupation list earlier this year because of concerns that it was increasingly being used by companies in low-wage sectors to hire cheap foreign labour instead of recruiting domestic workers.

David Cameron promised to bring annual net migration down into the tens of thousands in 2010. But the figure has remained high and risen significantly since Brexit, with most people coming from non-EU countries.

After fighting a Brexit campaign driven in part by claims the UK would be able to control its borders, anti-EU Conservatives have seen net migration soar since the 2016 referendum.

Dr Madeleine Sumption, the director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, said the home secretary’s decision to raise the family income threshold to £38,700 could have the most significant impacts on individuals.

“This threshold determines whether British citizens can bring a foreign partner to live with them in the UK, and the level has been more than doubled,” she said.

“Family migration makes up a small share of the total, but those who are affected by it can be affected very significantly.

“The largest impacts will fall on lower-income British citizens, and particularly women and younger people who tend to earn lower wages.”

Source: The Guardian