Conservatives Propose Cap on Migrant Visas Amid Election Push

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The number of visas available to migrants would be reduced each year under a new Conservative government, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised.

This new policy will allow MPs to vote on annual government proposals aimed at regularly reducing immigration numbers, based on recommendations from the expert Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).

Although no specific figures were provided for the potential cap, Sunak emphasised that his party was the only one willing to take “bold action to reduce immigration” if elected on 4 July. Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, criticised the announcement, highlighting that net migration had trebled and accusing the Conservatives of “rehashing failed announcements.”

This announcement coincides with Nigel Farage’s return to lead the Reform Party, which also focuses on reducing immigration, adding pressure on Sunak. Some Conservatives have expressed dissatisfaction with current immigration levels, seeing control over UK borders and reducing immigration figures as a key election battleground against Labour.

Sunak’s policy aims to differentiate his party from Labour, especially with an upcoming head-to-head debate with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. The Prime Minister argued that giving MPs the decision-making power would ensure voters’ views are respected and reflected.

“The plan is working but migration levels are still too high, so we are going further,” Sunak stated. He accused Labour of planning to make the UK a “global magnet for illegal immigrants,” claiming they had “no plan to reduce net migration.”

The proposed cap would apply to worker and family visas but exempt temporary work routes, such as the Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme. The MAC’s remit would prioritise the economic impacts of migration, including effects on public services, wages, and productivity.

Successive Tory governments under Theresa May, David Cameron, and Sunak have attempted to limit visas, most recently through the Illegal Migration Act.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper dismissed the announcement as “meaningless,” arguing that the Conservatives had trebled net migration since the last election despite promises to reduce it. She added that Labour’s plan would link immigration with mandatory training and workforce plans for British workers and stop rogue employers from hiring abroad.

Last year’s immigration levels were about three times higher than in 2019, although they were lower than in 2022. Over 300,000 work visas were granted in the year ending March 2024, more than double the number in 2019, according to official statistics.

New regulations introduced this year, including a ban on international students and social care workers bringing dependent family members and a hike in the minimum salary for skilled worker visas, have led to a decline in health and social care visa applications. However, care providers have warned of struggles to fill tens of thousands of vacancies.

Nigel Farage, now leading Reform UK, criticised the population increase and advocated for “net zero immigration,” meaning the number of people entering the UK should equal those leaving. He argued for admitting fewer unskilled immigrants, stating, “We don’t need any – we literally don’t need any,” suggesting this would lead to wage increases and skill development over university education.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Farage downplayed Reform’s previous policy to relocate asylum seekers to British overseas territories, calling the idea impractical and indicating potential policy changes under his new leadership.

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