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Public Sector Visa Demand Leaves Tories "In A Corner" On Migration

(Alamy)

4 min read

Visas issued by Government increased over the last year as demand for public sector workers continued to drive up migration numbers, leaving Tory MPs, who have made significantly reduce levels of migration a core pledge, trapped "in a corner".

The UK issued 1.4million visas to foreign nationals in 2023. Home Office data suggests almost half of this figure was driven by work visas, plus family members and dependents of those to whom the visas had been granted.

The number of health and social care visas issued was 146,477, which marked an almost 100 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2022.

Government also issued 279,131 visas to dependents who had been given a work visa, which was an 80 per cent increase since 2021.

The highest number of asylum grants on record were also issued last year, at 62,336. The IPPR, a think tank, has suggested the sharp increase was as a result of the Home Office making more asylum decisions overall. There were also 15,000 applications refused.

Figures showed small boat arrivals had fallen by 36 per cent from its previous high in 2022. The Migration Observatory, an organisation which provides an analysis on migration, believed the fall was down to the sharp decrease in the number of Albanian citizens crossing the Channel as a result of the UK having put in place a series of measures with the country to reduce numbers. 

It is expected that from March, the number of health and social care workers coming to the UK is likely to be affected by new rules that will prevent them from bringing their partners and children into the country. While this helps Government achieve its goal to reduce migration, it also threatens to create staff shortages in the sector.

Rob McNeil, Deputy Director and Head of Media and Communications at the University of Oxford's Migration Observatory, told PoliticsHome he believed it was unlikely that Government would see migration numbers substantially fall prior to the next election.

"We are unlikely to see a radical downward movement of migration to the UK between now and the election, if it were to happen in the Autumn,” he said. “There is no particular reason to expect the numbers will radically fall."

Dr Ben Brindle, Researcher at the Migration Observatory said serious staff shortages in the care sector were a “major” factor behind high demand for care visas.

“On one hand, the government opened the immigration system to social care workers without addressing the underlying driver of shortages, namely the poor pay and conditions in a largely publicly funded sector,” he said.

“On the other, the social care route has been attractive to many overseas workers despite the poor conditions. It offers a more accessible route to living in the UK than other sectors, where it can be harder to find jobs that qualify for visas.”

A Tory MP on the moderate wing of the party told PoliticsHome it was a "difficult balance” for the government to both meet the labour demands of business and its core voters who want migration to drop. 

“It is important we go through and have a reasonable free hand for trade agreements with India, so we have got to find a way of controlling immigration in other areas," they said. “I don’t know what the answer is. We have put ourselves in a corner.”

Government has tried to grapple with high migration figures in the past, and last year it announced it would increase salary thresholds for foreign spouses. However, it watered such plans in December and cut the proposed fee by almost £10,000.

The Home Office confirmed further details of new migration plans in December which showed that while the Minimum Income Requirement (MIR) on the family migration route would ultimately increase to £38,700, as had already been announced, in initial stages the threshold would only rise to £29,000. The current threshold is £18,600.

The mood on the Right of the Conservative Party has continued to harden on migration, with senior Tories openly criticising the Government for failing to reduce the numbers.

Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, posted on X that the current high levels of visas which were granted could not “go on”.

“1.4 million people were granted visas here last year. Asylum approvals at a record high. Work & student visa numbers, including many dependents, are appalling. This cannot go on: we don’t have enough homes, GPs or schools to support this level.”

James Sunderland, Conservative MP for Bracknell, told PoliticsHome migration needed to come down to alleviate pressure on public services.

“Yes, we have employment opportunities that we need to fill and it's great that we are doing so but we also need to leverage more from our extant workforce to avoid further overloading of our public services,” he said.

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