4 December 2023
Legal Migration

Home Secretary James Cleverly makes a statement to the House of Commons and answers MPs’ questions on legal migration.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Cleverly)

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on legal migration.

Migration to this country is far too high and needs to come down. Today, we are taking more robust action than any Government have before in order to bring it down. Since my first day in the Home Office, just three weeks ago, I have been determined to crack down on those who try to jump the queue and exploit our immigration system. I have been working closely with my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister on this subject. The recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show a provisional estimate of net migration for the year ending June 2023 of 672,000. While that is lower than the ONS estimate for net migration for the year ending December 2022, it is still far too high.

When our country voted to leave the European Union, we also voted to take back control of our borders. Thanks to this Conservative Government, we now have a points-based immigration system through which we can control who comes to the UK. We prioritise the skills and talent we need to grow our economy and support our NHS, and we have a competitive visa system for globally mobile talent; for example, last year we expanded health worker visa access to address the urgent need for more social care workers. The whole country can be proud that in the past decade we have also welcomed more than half a million people through humanitarian routes—people from Ukraine, Hong Kong and Afghanistan, including 85,000 from Ukraine and Hong Kong in the past year alone.

The British people will always do the right thing by those in need, but they also, absolutely rightly, want to reduce overall immigration numbers. That means not only stopping the boats and shutting down illegal routes, but a well-managed reduction in legal migration. People are understandably worried about housing, GP appointments, school places and access to other public services when they can see their communities growing quickly in numbers.

From January 2024, the right for international students to bring dependants will be removed unless they are on postgraduate courses designated as research programmes. We always want to attract the global brightest and best. We have also stopped international students switching out of the student route into work routes before their studies have been completed. These changes will have a tangible impact on net migration; around 153,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending September 2023.

Today, I can announce that we will go even further, 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 that around 300,000 fewer people will come to the UK in future years than came last year.

These measures are possible because we are building up our domestic workforce and supporting British workers. Thanks to the excellent work of my right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary, our back to work plan will help people stay healthy, get off benefits and move into sustainable employment. It builds on the ambitious £7 billion employment package from the spring Budget to help up to 1.1 million people with long-term health conditions or disabilities, or who have been in long-term unemployment, to look for work, get into work and stay in work. We are also investing heavily in helping adults learn valuable skills and prepare for the economy of the future, and of course we have world-class universities that help in that endeavour.

The first point of our five-point plan will be to end the abuse of the health and care visa. We will stop overseas care workers bringing family dependants, and we will require care firms in England to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission in order to sponsor visas. Approximately 120,000 dependants accompanied 100,000 care workers and senior care workers in the year ending September 2023. Only 25% of dependants are estimated to be in work, which means that a significant number are drawing on public services rather than helping to grow the economy. We recognise that foreign workers do great work in our NHS and health sector, but it is also important that migrants make a big enough financial contribution. Therefore, we will increase the annual immigration health surcharge this year by 66%, from £624 to £1,035, to raise on average around £1.3 billion for the health services of this country every year.

Secondly, we will stop immigration undercutting the salaries of British workers. We will increase the skilled worker earnings threshold by a third to £38,700 from next spring, in line with the median full-time wage for those kinds of jobs. Those coming on health and social care visa routes will be exempt, so we can continue to bring in the healthcare workers on which our care sector and NHS rely.

Thirdly, we will scrap cut-price shortage labour from overseas by ending the 20% going rate salary discount for shortage occupations and reforming the shortage occupations list. I have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review the occupations on the list because of our new higher skilled worker salary threshold, and we will create a new immigration salary list, with a reduced number of occupations, in co-ordination with MAC.

Fourthly, we will ensure that people bring only dependants whom they can support financially, by raising the minimum income for family visas to the same threshold as the minimum salary threshold for skilled workers, which is £38,700. The minimum income requirement is currently £18,600 and has not been increased since 2012. This package of measures will take effect from next spring.

Finally, having already banned overseas master’s students from bringing family members to the UK, I have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review the graduate route to prevent abuse and protect the integrity and quality of the UK’s outstanding higher education sector. It needs to work in the best interests of the UK, supporting the pathway into high-quality jobs for the global talent pool, but reducing opportunities for abuse. This package of measures, in addition to the measures on student dependants that we announced in May, will mean that around 300,000 fewer people will be eligible to come to the UK than came last year. That is the largest reduction on record.

Immigration policy must be fair, consistent, legal and sustainable. That is why we are also taking the fight to illegal migration. Our plan to stop the boats is working. Small boat arrivals are down by a third, even as illegal migration across the rest of Europe is on the rise.

Today we have taken decisive action to reduce legal migration with our five-point plan. Enough is enough. We are curbing abuses of the healthcare visa, increasing thresholds, cutting the shortage occupations list discount, increasing family income requirements and cutting the number of student dependants. I commend this statement to the House.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)

I call the shadow Home Secretary.


Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)

I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of the statement.

Today’s statement is an admission of years of total failure by this Conservative Government—failure on the immigration system and failure on the economy. It is another example of the total chaos at the heart of this Government. Net migration has trebled since the last election, when the Conservatives promised to reduce it, as a result of their policies on the economy and on immigration, including the Prime Minister’s policy decisions. In a chaotic panic, the Prime Minister now opposes the policies that he introduced and thinks that the Government’s own decisions are a problem. Who does the Home Secretary think has been in charge for the past 13 years? More chaos, more veering all over the place.

Net migration should come down. Labour has called for an end to the 20% unfair discount, for increased salary thresholds to prevent exploitation and for the inclusion of advice from a strengthened Migration Advisory Committee. Most of all, we have called for a proper plan, with clear links between the immigration system, training and the economy, and workforce plans, none of which are in the statement, because the Government have no grip and no proper plan. This is a chaotic approach.

Immigration is important for Britain, and we have rightly helped Ukraine and Hong Kong. We benefit from international talent and students. That is why the immigration system needs to be controlled and managed, so that it is fair and effective, and why net migration should come down from record levels. But there needs to be a proper plan. It was this Conservative Government who brought in the 20% wage discount that allowed employers to recruit at less than the going rate, even though the Migration Advisory Committee warned against it, and even though it is completely unfair. They chose to apply salary thresholds that were lower than the Migration Advisory Committee originally proposed, and to not update them for years. As Chancellor and then as Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) repeatedly blocked proposals to tighten the rules, including in May this year, and including when the Government refused Labour’s calls to end the unfair 20% discount. They repeatedly failed to listen to warnings about the failure to train or pay properly in the UK. Twelve months ago, I warned that work visas had substantially increased as a result of major skills shortages in the UK and that the Conservatives were not taking any serious action to address those shortages. The Leader of the Opposition warned 12 months ago that the immigration system should be linked to new requirements to train up workers at home, but the Conservatives did nothing; unbelievably they are still doing nothing.

There is nothing in this statement about training requirements or workforce plans. The Conservatives say that they want fewer shortage occupations, but it was only four months ago that they added bricklayers, roof tilers and plasterers to the shortage list. They have totally failed on construction training, and there are no plans to tackle that. Engineering apprenticeships have halved since 2018, so it is no wonder that engineering visas have gone up. Again, there is nothing to tackle those failures.

Social care visas have gone up from 3,500 a year to more than 100,000 a year because the Government have failed for years to heed warnings about recruitment and retention in social care. They halved the budget for social care workforce recruitment and support back in the spring, and they are still not listening and still refusing to adopt Labour’s plan for a proper workforce strategy for social care, including professional standards and a fair pay agreement. They are failing to tackle the delays in the asylum system that have also pushed the net migration figures up. They are failing to tackle NHS waiting lists that are preventing the long-term sick from going back to work.

The Prime Minister is just crashing around all over the place, reversing policies that he introduced, criticising policies he defended six months ago and introducing new immigration policies without any of the economic policies to match. A previous Prime Minister was accused of being a shopping trolley, veering around from one side to another. The current Prime Minister is clearly veering, but he certainly is not steering; he has just climbed into someone else’s shopping trolley and is being pushed around all over the place.

Can the Home Secretary tell us where the workforce plan is on social care, on engineering, on bricklaying and on all the shortage occupations that the Government’s total economic failure has left us with? Has the Migration Advisory Committee advised on these policies? Where are the reforms to strengthen the committee so that it can do so? Why have the Government still not introduced our requirements on employers or on the Government to address the skills and labour shortages that are driving the increase in net migration in the first place? The Conservatives are in chaos. They have no serious plan for the economy, no serious plan for the immigration system, and no serious plan for the country. Britain deserves better than this.

James Cleverly 

I was waiting for the policy announcement from the Labour party, and sadly I am still waiting. The right hon. Lady talks about skills training. Hers was the party which, in government, dissuaded people from investing in their own skills, telling people that the only good job was a graduate job, undermining apprenticeships. That is something we have set about repairing through our entire time in government. Hers was the party that, in government, failed to put transitional measures in place when the EU expanded, importing significant numbers of people in the construction industry, which meant there was a disincentive to investing in people, technology and productivity—a situation that she now decries. She fails to make reference to the £7 billion employment package announced in the spring Budget that will help 1.1 million people get back into work and stay in work.

When I was at the Dispatch Box in the days after my appointment, I said that Labour had a plan for migration. The problem that Labour Members have is that the plan they are proposing is the plan I am already implementing. Working with the Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) since the day I was appointed, we have put forward the most substantial package of legal migration reforms that the country has ever seen. Their great idea is already being put in place by this great Government.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con)

I am very pleased to welcome about four and a half of the five announcements that my right hon. Friend has made, particularly the crackdown on abuse of the dependants route, which has proved a weakness in the system over recent years, and the increase in the family visa rate. He was told that this will cause apocalyptic damage, but when I first introduced the visa 10 years ago and set the rate at £18,700, which he now says is too low, I was told it would be apocalyptic for family life in this country. It was not—it was the right protection—and I am glad he is increasing it now.

However, may I ask him about the health and care visa, and particularly about the inability of people to bring dependants with them? How many care workers does he think will be deterred by that? How many fewer will be coming here? There is a shortage of about 150,000 in the care sector at the moment, and I hope that the new approach is not a significant contributor to the reduction in numbers. If it is, it will cause damage to the care sector.

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend asks an important question. My right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister and I have crunched the numbers in great detail. What we have seen through this scheme is the displacement of British workers. The total number of people in the sector has not increased by anywhere near as much as the number of people who have entered on the family visa route. We also suspect that, globally, there is significant surplus demand. Although an individual with a family might be dissuaded because of the restrictions on family members, someone who does not have those family commitments will almost certainly be willing to put themselves forward, so we do not envisage a significant reduction in demand because of the changes. It will mean, however, that we have the care workers we need and not the estimated 120,000 other people who have come with them in recent years.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)

I call the SNP spokesperson.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)

The statement will be judged on whether it is pandering to the right wing of the Home Secretary’s party or addressing the needs of the economy—[Interruption.] I see them all cheering.

On the 120,000 dependants figure, can the Home Secretary tell me how many of them are children? Is he suggesting that children should be going into work? He mentioned his discussions with the Department of Work and Pensions, but what discussions has he had with the Health Secretary? The Home Office figures show that 143,990 health and care worker visas were granted in the year ending in September. That is more than double the figure for September next year, which perhaps demonstrates the real impact that creating more barriers and red tape will have on the NHS and care sector. Finally, Professor Brian Bell, chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, recently warned that limits on overseas care worker numbers could see a situation whereby

“lots of people won’t get care.”

Does the Home Secretary recognise that his proposals may cause irrevocable harm to the care sector?

James Cleverly 

The point about dependants is an incredibly important one. If the hon. Gentleman had listened carefully to the answer I gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), I made the point that we do not envisage a reduction in the number of people working in the care sector, but a reduction in the number of people coming with those workers, the vast majority of whom are not in work. Whether they are children or out-of-work adults, the simple truth of the matter is that that creates a burden on the British welfare system, the education system, housing, school places and GP’s surgeries. The offer that we are making is clear: we are supporting the health sector and the social care sector, but we are doing so in a way that minimises the additional pressure on communities.

It is incredibly easy for us to say and do things that might superficially be viewed as generous, but the people who disproportionately carry the burden of the decisions we make are those on the lowest salaries, those who are struggling to find housing, and those who are on waiting lists. We should be conscious of their needs. That is why we are being thoughtful and careful about the people we are welcoming into our country.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)

Order. Before we go any further, colleagues will recognise that a large number of people want to catch my eye for this statement. We have another statement afterwards, and then we have an important piece of legislation to which a large number of people want to speak, so I urge colleagues to be brief in their questions so that the Home Secretary can be concise in his answers. I will only be calling people who arrived for the beginning of the Home Secretary’s statement. I am trusting those who were late not to be standing.

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con)

Does my right hon. Friend think it would be a good idea to have a cap on the number coming in?

James Cleverly 

Although I understand the calls for a cap, in practical terms, managing a cap is difficult. We want to ensure that we are being as generous as possible to the people who contribute to our society and our economy. We also recognise that not every single individual is the same—a child could count as one person against a cap, as would an investor who may bring a huge number of jobs—and we want a difference between the two to be possible.

Madam Deputy Speaker 

I call the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.

Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)

As the Home Secretary will appreciate, the Home Affairs Committee is keen to scrutinise the policies of the Home Office. At our meeting last week, that proved difficult because we could not get information about, for example, the cost of the Rwanda policy, asylum backlogs or the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children still missing from hotels. Can we please have an assurance from the Home Secretary that when the Immigration Minister appears before the Committee next week, we will have the full evidence base and economic impact for the policy announcements made today?

James Cleverly 

I have no doubt that the Immigration Minister, who is hugely experienced in this portfolio, will come fully armed with facts and figures at his fingertips.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)

We eased the driver shortage by training more people at home and paying them more. Is that not the right model for the scarcity occupations?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend is right. What we want is a high-skilled, high-productivity, high-wage economy. These proposals and the work that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced support that. Labour would do the opposite.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)

These proposals—some of them, at least—will be met with absolute horror in the Lake district hospitality and tourism industry, which is a £3.5 billion industry. Twenty million people visit our communities every year, but because of the Government’s failure to provide sufficient affordable homes for local people and their stupid visa rules, we now have a massive workforce crisis. Two thirds of our businesses cannot meet demand because of inadequate numbers of workers. Has the Home Secretary spoken to anybody working in or managing the lakes hospitality industry, or does he not care what they think?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister met the Lake District tourist Board; so, specifically in answer to the hon. Member’s question, yes, he has. The simple truth of the matter is that we have analysed the figures, and we know which sectors have brought in the most people. Hospitality in the UK is an incredibly important sector and a fantastic employer of local people. That is what we want to see in that sector.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)

The net immigration figures are unsustainably high, notwithstanding the large element of Ukrainian and Hong Kong people coming here, so I welcome most of the proposals, and particularly the action on dependants, which have gone up sevenfold since 2020, particularly pertaining to care and health workers. We have heard about care workers recruited to homes that do not exist and people traffickers putting together people awarded visas and dependants with whom they have no connection. How will measures be taken to ensure that the proposals are enforced and that such abuses do not continue?

James Cleverly 

We have already started to take action, and the plans that we have put forward today will take that further. Ensuring that care homes are registered with the Care Quality Commission goes a long way to addressing the abuses that my hon. Friend discussed. We are putting forward plans that support our economy, our health sector and the British people in a clear, transparent, predictable and fair way.

Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)

Can the Home Secretary tell us which business groups or trade associations support the proposals and were involved in developing them? I have heard concerns from businesses today that our national economic interest is once again in the hands of Tory head-bangers.

James Cleverly 

We continue to work extensively with business to ensure that their need for employees is supported, and to support our economy in a way that does not undermine communities or depress wages but supports the high-skill, high-wage economy that we aspire to. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman does not.

George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con)

Is not the problem with a skills-based immigration policy that it gives preferential access to bankers, lawyers, accountants and economists, even though we have no need for such people in this country? We have plenty of homegrown talent here. That makes it difficult to recruit the people we do need: care workers; people in the food industry and in manufacturing, or producing things generally; or in the tourism industry. Will the Secretary of State consider moving away from the failed skills-based migration policy towards one based on the needs of our economy?

James Cleverly 

I have huge respect for my right hon. Friend, but the figures just do not bear out his assessment. The vast majority of people in the last couple of years’ worth of immigration figures are in the lower end of the skills spectrum. The figures do not bear out his point.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)

There is no evidence that immigration pushes down wages. I do not know if the Secretary of State has any elderly relatives in care, but I do. I know the invaluable contribution that overseas care workers make. Many are young men and women, for example from the Philippines, who are wonderfully hard-working, caring and very respectful of elderly people. Why should they be forced to leave their dependent children thousands of miles away in the Philippines?

James Cleverly 

No one is being forced to do anything. If people choose to come here, they choose to abide by the rules that we put in place. That is completely fair and appropriate. My mother came to work in the NHS in the 1960s. We value the people from around the world who have come to support us, but it is right and fair that we put rules in place, that we let people know those rules and, if they wish to come and join us in this wonderful country and work in our wonderful society, it is right and fair that they abide by those rules.

Sir Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Con)

My constituents will warmly welcome today’s announcement, because immigration figures in recent years are clearly unsustainable. Does it not speak volumes that we are described as head-bangers for pointing out what is blindingly obvious to Government Members? What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to an annual migration budget, so that we can all be held accountable in this House for the choices that we make on behalf of our constituents?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Ultimately, the decisions that we make here affect the lives of others. We should always be conscious of the impact of our decisions. That is why we have listened carefully to those who have spoken of housing shortages and school places becoming harder to find in their local areas. With figures significantly higher than promised, they would want us to take action. We are now taking action—that was always part of taking back control. We hear over and over from Opposition Members that they do not want us to take action. They are fundamentally wrong on this issue.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)

When it was raised last week by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the shadow Home Secretary, it appeared that the Home Secretary did not even realise that foreign workers were being paid 20% less than UK workers—the so-called “salary discount”—but he has followed her good advice and I welcome the end of that discrepancy. How will the new payroll be applied to those already here?

James Cleverly 

It will be brought in in the early part of next year, in close co-ordination with the Migration Advisory Committee. No one who is already here will be disadvantaged. Ultimately, we want a high skilled, high wage, high productivity economy. The shadow Home Secretary says that the Labour party wants to address those issues, but I made a quiet prediction to myself and others that each and every intervention from the Labour Back Benches would be in complete contradiction to her position from the Labour Front Bench. Let us see.

Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood) (Con)

I thank the Home Secretary for his statement on the measures he will be taking to bring down the number, which is too big and unsustainable, particularly for communities in the south-east. Now that he is making the best of being able to change the policy to suit the needs of this country, will he consider an annual review to alter the requirements and rules to suit the needs of this country over time?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend makes exactly the right point. Our promise to the British people was to take back control of our immigration system and our borders, a policy that was, at the time and subsequently, opposed by the Labour party. Taking back control means making adjustments, addressing the needs of our economy and our society. The changes I am putting forward today are in response to our economic needs, as well as our social needs.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)

There is a global skills shortage of health and care workers, so they have choices to go to other countries that will accept dependants. What message does the Home Secretary have for the 7.8 million people currently on the NHS waiting list, when we will not have the skills to provide the care they desperately need?

James Cleverly 

As predicted, each and every one of the speakers on the Opposition Benches thus far has opposed the proposals I put forward, despite what the shadow Home Secretary said. As the hon. Lady will have heard me answer on two occasions, we do not envisage a reduction in demand because of the significantly large number of applicants that was originally envisaged when the visa scheme was put in place.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con)

I find it baffling, given that well over 1 million people came to this country in the past two years, that the Opposition parties do not seem to think it a good idea to scale back. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this package. Will he also look at the question of those who come her to study? There is an automatic assumption at the moment that those who do so have a right to stay after they have studied and look for a job. There is a case for revisiting that and asking whether that is right in all circumstances.

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend is right to draw our attention to students. Our university sector is a global success story and widely respected around the world. We want to make sure it maintains that reputation for quality. We want to make sure that the global brightest and best who choose to come to study and work here are genuinely the global brightest and best. Higher education should be a route to study and education, rather than a visa route by the back door.

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

Since the crew for fishing vessels was added to the shortage occupation list by the Government, only a handful of visas have been granted. That is not because of the earnings threshold—most would meet that requirement comfortably—but because of the requirement for the English language test at level B1. Why does the Home Secretary think that B1 is an appropriate level for somebody working on a fishing boat?

James Cleverly 

An inability to speak English would hamper anybody, and it really is entirely reasonable to expect people coming here to work to be able to do so.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con)

This year, vacancies in adult social care fell a little—the figure now stands at a “mere” 152,000—which was due to a large increase in the number of care workers coming to this country as part of the shortage occupations list. The Library tells me that, as of September, there were 121,000 vacancies in the NHS. What exact changes does the Home Secretary envisage making to the shortage occupations list? Can he please show the workings-out of the changes to family arrangements, for which he said that he has crunched the numbers with the Immigration Minister? Above all, who did Ministers consult in the health and care sector ahead of today’s legal migration announcement?

James Cleverly 

We asked the Migration Advisory Committee to look into these things—that it why it exists—however my hon. Friend makes a very important point, which speaks to why we are tightening the system to prevent abuse. Anyone looking at the numbers will see that a significant number of people have come through the health and social care visa system over the last couple of years, yet we have lost them from health and social care. That is not what any of us needs or wants. The right thing to do is to ensure that those who come are genuinely employed in that sector, which is where we need them—that is the promise that they have made to us, and that we have made to them. Ensuring that that is the case is the right and fair thing to do.

Beth Winter (Cynon Valley) (Lab)

The Minister said: “Migration to this country is far too high and needs to come down.” But as others have said, so many of those who come to this country make a critical contribution to our employment sectors, no more so than by filling the gaping holes in our social care and health sector. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to Unison, the social care trade union, which says:

“The care system would implode without migrant care staff.”

Does he not agree that a better, more humane approach would be to fund local government to improve social care pay and conditions?

James Cleverly 

There we go again. As I have said, while the shadow Home Secretary says that immigration numbers are too high, each and every one of her Back Benchers disagrees with any action to deal with it. We have got to bring these numbers down, we have committed to do so, and we have put forward a thoughtful plan, which takes into consideration the needs of the health and social care sectors.

Rachel Maclean (Redditch) (Con)

I think the howls of outrage from the Opposition Benches highlight the inconsistency in Labour’s position, given that it was the party that wanted to overturn the referendum and introduce unlimited free movement of labour. Does the Home Secretary agree that pressure from migration puts pressure on local families and young people who want to buy or rent their own house, and will he consider that every time he grants more visas for people to come to this country?

James Cleverly 

This is an incredibly important point, and it is why control of immigration is so important. We are a generous country. We have demonstrated that generosity time and time again, whether it be towards the Ugandan Asians, people from west Africa, people from Hong Kong or people from Ukraine. We are rightly proud, but it is also important that we prove that we are thoughtful about the implications for those who live here, whether they have lived here for decades, for years, or for generations. That is why it is right that we have put forward these proposals, which are carefully calibrated to support our economy and our health and social care needs, but also to bring down those figures.

Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)

The net migration figure is now 672,000—three times the level at the 2019 general election, when the Conservatives promised to reduce it. Does the Home Secretary concede that the Tories have failed miserably on immigration policy, along with a whole host of other policies, and that that is why their time is now well and truly up?

James Cleverly 

No, I do not.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)

I congratulate the Government on taking a thoroughly common-sense view in raising the threshold to £38,000—and I say that as a senior citizen member of the New Conservatives—but the Home Secretary said in his statement:

“Those coming on health and social care visa routes will be exempt, so we can continue to bring in the healthcare workers on which our care sector and NHS rely.”

What does that phrase mean? Will such action not drive a coach and horses through this measure? Surely the solution is for the care sector to pay proper wages.

James Cleverly 

We have recognised the recruitment challenge for domestic workers in the health and social care system, and we have made it clear on a number of occasions that we will not allow those extremely important public services, on which we rely, to be without the staff that they need. What we want to do is bring in the people who are employed in those sectors, but not the dependants whom they have typically brought with them. That will enable us to lower the headline numbers, which we have committed ourselves to doing, while protecting the health and social care sector, which we have also committed ourselves to doing.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

The Home Secretary has admitted several times that we are losing people from the health and social care sector, both domestic workers and people whom the Government have brought in, but he has said nothing about increasing pay, has he?

James Cleverly 

We have said over and over again that we are working towards a higher-productivity, higher-skilled, higher-wage employment sector, across all sectors of employment. What we have said is that the current visa regime has displaced workers, which is why we are changing it.

Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)

The people of Stoke-on-Trent, North Kidsgrove and Talke will welcome today’s announcements from the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister, while also recognising the faux outrage of Opposition Members who can talk tough through their rhetoric from the Front Bench. The squirming on the Back Benches of uncomfortableness when it comes to talking about immigration is something that I thoroughly enjoy, especially as we know that they wish to return free movement via the back door. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that future reviews will look to stopping the dependency route for those on one-year Masters by Research degree courses as well?

James Cleverly 

We have committed to doing a wider review of the higher education, post-graduate route, and I take my hon. Friend’s point on board. We have already taken action, but I commit to reviewing it, and once we have seen the outcome of the review, I will be able to update my hon. Friend and the House on the decisions that we make.

Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)

A choice could have been made between protecting the flank against Reform UK and backing British business. I do not understand how the Home Secretary can think that the way to create jobs for local people is to starve sectors such as the science industry of, for example, the lab technicians required to drive what they need to do. 

How on earth does he think that anyone in Oxford West and Abingdon will be helped to get a job when the industries that employ them are not able to grow?

James Cleverly 

It would have been better had the hon. Lady listened to the points that were made about protecting the scientific community in and around Oxford by ensuring that we remain attractive to the global brightest and best, and protecting the people who need our protection in the health and social care sectors by ensuring that those sectors are staffed. The simple fact is, however, that we have committed ourselves to bringing these numbers down. What we are proposing will bring those numbers down, and will do so in a way that reinforces our commitment to a higher-skilled, more productive, higher-wage economy.

Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)

Does the Home Secretary accept that, in order for any large-scale immigration policy to succeed, it is necessary for people to wish to integrate? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that there is a smooth path to integration for those large numbers of people who come here?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. I replied earlier about the need for English language. If somebody is denied the ability to communicate in the country that they choose to call home, they will be permanently disadvantaged and find it harder to integrate. We want people to integrate; we want people to be and feel part of our communities. We want the communities that they move into to welcome them and to be confident that the immigration system of this country supports not only those new arrivals who choose to make this country their home but the people who already live here.

Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)

After 13 years in power and seven years after we voted to leave the EU, I do not know why anyone would believe that this Government will reduce net migration in the way that is being claimed today. But if we assume the Home Secretary’s figures are right, net migration will still be higher than it was in 2019 when his party promised to reduce it. That is right, isn’t it?

James Cleverly 

The simple truth is that the British people have far more confidence in the party that campaigned to take back control of its immigration system, than they do in the party that would maintain free movement and whose contributions from the Opposition Benches have, unsurprisingly, been in opposition to the decisions that we are taking to bring down the numbers of net migration.

Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)

I very much welcome the announcement today, and particularly the measures to stop the abuse of the health and care visa. The Home Secretary will be aware of a number of bogus care companies that are charging people tens of thousands of pounds to come to this country, only to find that there is no job. Many of them are ending up in Cornwall. I think I understood him to say that these measures would be introduced in the spring. Can I urge him to look at bringing that forward so that we can end what is effectively people trafficking and ripping people off and the misery that it is causing?

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The people who are brought here on a false premise are victims of abuses of this system. We are already taking action to address those abuses, and this package of reforms goes further still, with the necessity to be subscribed to the Care Quality Commission. He is absolutely right to say that abuses hurt everybody, and we will continue to take action to address them.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)

Net migration figures are also affected by the number of people who choose to leave the country, and since Brexit it has been much more difficult for people from Glasgow North who want to live, study or work in Europe for any extended period of time. What steps are the Government taking to negotiate more visa exchange programmes with the European Union and other countries that could allow the sharing of skills and experience across borders, with at the very least a neutral effect on net migration?

James Cleverly 

Without wanting to drift back into my old portfolio, I have, in close co-ordination with my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister, negotiated a number of youth mobility programmes to attract the brightest and the best. The hon. Gentleman talks about people leaving certain geographies. He might want to reflect on the fact that a significant number of people are leaving Scotland to come south of the border because of the pernicious income tax regime that the Scottish National party Government in Edinburgh have put in place.

Lia Nici (Great Grimsby) (Con)

I would like to thank my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister for listening to us. I am sure that the measures he has announced today will be welcomed by constituents in Grimsby, but does he agree that we need these measures to come quickly and that we perhaps need more conditionality? For instance, if people are coming here supposedly to take up skilled or skill-shortage jobs but are not doing so, perhaps we should invite them not to stay.

James Cleverly 

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments about these reforms, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister, who has been working on this for longer than the three weeks that I have been in this role. My hon. Friend is right to say that we want to bring people here in good faith and that we expect them to act in good faith. If they apply via a certain visa route, we expect them to abide by the conditionality of that visa route. If they contribute, play by the rules and do the right thing, they will always be welcome, but we take a dim view of those people who seek to abuse our hospitality.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)

Immigration figures have trebled since the 2019 general election, and it is worth reminding ourselves that, back then, the Conservatives told us that they were going to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands. The scale of the failure is enormous, as underlined by the Office for National Statistics, which says that 90,000 asylum seekers have been waiting over a year for their asylum cases to be dealt with, so more than 15% of it is due to the sheer incompetence of the Secretary of State’s Department. What is he going to do about that? I did not hear any reference to it in his statement.

James Cleverly 

We have increased the pace of decision making in our asylum processing system tenfold. I remind the hon. Gentleman that in recent years we have made very generous offers to the people of Hong Kong and Ukraine. I know the British people will recognise which of our two parties will grip immigration, and it certainly is not his.

Neil O’Brien (Harborough) (Con)

This excellent package is a big step in the right direction, towards a higher-skill, higher-wage economy with less pressure on our housing and infrastructure. Will my right hon. Friend put in the Library the analysis behind his statement that this package, plus the previously announced reduction in student dependants, will mean that more than 300,000 people who came last year would no longer be able to do so? It would be interesting to understand how much of that is the previously announced reduction in student dependants, how much of it comes from each of the announcements made today and how it compares with the forecast for future migration laid out by the OBR in the most recent economic and fiscal outlook. Will he put that in the Library? A previous Government were rightly mocked for saying that only tens of thousands of people would come from eastern Europe, and they were completely wrong. As well as having a better policy, can we also have more transparency?

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I am more than happy to put in the Library our estimates of the impact of these announcements and the previous announcements.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I understand exactly what the Home Secretary is trying to do on migration, and there is a need to do some of those things. I work closely with the Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation back home, and fishing is an industry that welcomes foreign workers as there is a clear shortage. When we left the EU, the fishing sector was promised that things would get better, that quotas would make stocks more available and that the fishing sector would therefore grow. The fishing sector welcomed that.

The minimum income was set at £18,600, whereas the average wage of a fisherman in Northern Ireland is £24,000. The English language became the next obstacle, and the fishing sector tried to agree to it. Will there be some realism on the skilled worker threshold of £38,700, which will not give the fishing sector the opportunity it needs to be active in employing people?

James Cleverly 

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. We will work with the MAC to ensure that, as we get rid of the shortage occupation list, we do not undermine key industries. I want to ensure that the fishing industry, whether in Northern Ireland or on the east coast of Scotland, can remain viable and profitable. That will always be part of our thinking.

Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)

I warmly welcome this statement and these measures. I thank my right hon. Friends, the Home Secretary and the Minister for Immigration, for listening to colleagues on both sides of the House, and especially those in our New Conservatives group. Extraordinary growth in immigration levels over recent years has been masking some long-term structural weaknesses in our economy, such as low productivity, high debt, falling birth rates and a negative balance of trade, by propping up the OBR’s superficial GDP growth figures. Does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary agree that, in order to bring down immigration numbers permanently, the OBR must instead turn its attention to the kinds of growth that really matter to our constituents: skills growth, wage growth, housing growth and industry growth? In other words, real growth.

James Cleverly 

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government remain relentlessly focused on those very issues. Increasing skills, increasing productivity and increasing investment in plant, machinery and technology to unlock the full economic potential of this country is at its heart. We will always make our case to the OBR. We will do what we know to be in the best interests of this country and of the people who work in this country.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con)

I commend my right hon. Friend on at last tackling an unsustainable issue, but was he, like me, a little concerned that two very high-ranking officials were unable at a parliamentary Committee to answer basic questions on migrant issues? Will he assure me that this will not happen in future and that he will push through these five excellent points forthwith?

James Cleverly 

I assure my hon. Friend that we will deliver these proposals with alacrity and at pace.

Dr Caroline Johnson (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)

My constituents believe migration figures are too high, so I welcome today’s statement and thank the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister for their hard work to develop the proposals. We heard from the Opposition how some large businesses will bemoan the fact that they no longer have access to cheap labour undercutting the British workforce, but does the Home Secretary agree that raising the threshold to £38,000 means that businesses will need to invest in technology, higher wages and better conditions for the domestic workforce?

James Cleverly 

To be really profitable, a lot of businesses understand that their best choice is to invest in their own businesses and people. Through the super-deduction policies put forward by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, we are encouraging businesses to invest in technology to unlock productivity and in the people they employ, because we are committed to a high-wage, high-productivity, high-growth economy.

Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)

I welcome today’s announcement, which will cut about 300,000 people off our net migration figures. Does the Home Secretary agree that the number of migrants the UK allows in each year should be directly proportionate to the number of new homes, GPs and school places we have, because at the moment the situation is completely unsustainable?

James Cleverly 

An important part of taking back control of our migration processes is to give planners, particularly at local government level, some kind of certainty about the demand. We see the demand from migration fall unevenly across the UK, putting some communities, particularly coastal communities, under great pressure. We want to ensure we have a planned, controlled immigration system. We are making these changes and bringing the numbers under control so that local government planners and others have more certainty about the future.

Tom Hunt (Ipswich) (Con)

I welcome the measures, but it is a shame they have taken so long. They should have been published after the last ONS stats were published, when I suggested a number of ideas about how we could keep our promise to the British public. There is great cynicism among the public about politicians talking about immigration—they have heard it all before. Will the Home Secretary promise that in the months ahead, he will explicitly demonstrate to the British public that this time it is different, we mean it and they will see change?

James Cleverly 

I assure my hon. Friend that the Immigration Minister and I had our first conversations on these figures before the ONS figures came out. I discussed the plans, which he had been working on for some time, within hours of being appointed to this role. We are working closely with the Treasury and other Departments on the implications. Across Government, the package is subscribed to and it will be delivered. While we recognise that it will not provide an instant fix—the House has to be realistic about that—we are committed to bringing the figures down and taking back control of our borders.

Brendan Clarke-Smith (Bassetlaw) (Con)

I warmly welcome the measures. I thank the Home Secretary for his highly robust statement and the Immigration Minister for his excellent work, which responds to the concerns of my constituents in Bassetlaw and the constituents of other Members. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the measures mean we will continue to bring the brightest and best to this country, as well as those seeking help and refuge, such as those from Ukraine and Hong Kong, but not those who, along with their dependants, do not represent a net benefit to the UK and who consume more than they contribute?

James Cleverly 

I visited businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency not long ago, and I could see the desire among the businesses that we met, whether they were traditional metalworking businesses or high-tech drone businesses, for the brightest and the best. They want people who are genuinely committed to contributing to our economy. That is the default setting of the British people. We are generous at heart, and we have a track record of being very generous, but we expect people to play by the rules and to contribute to our society and economy. That is not too much to ask. We are putting those conditions in place—conditions that, unsurprisingly, are opposed over and over again by all Opposition parties.

Mr Rob Roberts (Delyn) (Ind)

I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the Philippines. After the UK and India, the Philippines provides the third highest number of workers in our health service, and we would be in a very difficult place without their vital work to keep us safe and well. I welcome that people coming on the healthcare visa will be exempt from the increased salary requirements, but the cost of permanent residency remains extremely challenging and a barrier to entry. Given that the Home Secretary has spoken a number of times about integration, and the importance of such people in our communities, will he meet me and representatives of the Philippine Nurses Association to discuss how we might help them to make this country their permanent home as thanks for their amazing work?

James Cleverly 

I recognise the contribution that medical professionals from the Philippines make to the UK; indeed, I was in Manila not long ago, just before I was appointed Home Secretary. I value their contribution. We want to ensure that we support the people who want to come here and work, that we fill those roles, and that by using technology—there is technological opportunity in the health and social care sector—we increase productivity to fund wage increases. I will of course speak with the hon. Member, and if my diary commitments allow I will try to find an opportunity to speak with representatives of the Filipino community in the UK as well.