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Rishi Sunak Says He Has "More To Do" To Reduce Net Migration Figures

(Alamy)

4 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that he has “more to do” if he is going to succeed in bringing down migration numbers, as the Tory backbenches remain restless over last year’s figures being revised to a record high.

Sunak told broadcasters on Friday that ministers are “prepared to act and do more” to bring down levels of legal migration, which he said are “simply too high”. 

The Office for National Statistics published data on Thursday showing that net migration to the UK in the year to June 2023 was 672,000, while the net figures for the whole of 2022 were revised from 606,000 to 745,000. 

According to the BBC, immigration minister Robert Jenrick has drawn up a set of plans to reduce immigration numbers, including increasing the minimum salary required to qualify for a visa, and Conservative MPs have called on the Prime Minister to bring forward new plans quickly. 

Speaking on a visit to a Nissan plant in Sunderland, Sunak said it is “very clear that the levels of migration are too high and they’ve got to come down to more sustainable levels”. 

The figures were largely driven by student visas and health visas, and people coming to the UK with dependent family members. 

Asked about changes such as the salary cap, as well as how the government intends to keep the NHS staffed if there are limits on who can come to work from overseas, Sunak said ministers had “already taken action” to limit the number of dependents that can be granted with student visas. 

“The ONS said that net migration is now already slowing, so that is encouraging but there's more to do for sure,” Sunak said. 

“That's why I've already taken action, together with ministers, which is to clamp down on the number of dependents that students can bring when they come here because we saw a very significant rise in those numbers.” 

Earlier this year it was announced that overseas students, excluding postgraduates on PhD research programmes, would be banned from bringing dependents to the UK from January 2024. The announcement came shortly before the 2022 net migration figures – subsequently revised upwards – were released. 

Sunak said changes to student entitlements will make a “big difference”.  

“But of course, if there are other areas where there's abuse happening, we're going to look at that and we will clamp down on it,” he added.  

While the latest ONS data sparked concern from a number of Conservative MPs yesterday, former cabinet minister Robert Buckland urged caution among his colleagues, and thought that the issue was contributing to unnecessary division within the party. 

“We rightly took in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine and Hong Kong, you have these refugee schemes and students included in the figures,” he told PoliticsHome.

“If you start disaggregating the figures, what you are left with is going to be considerably less than the headline… It doesn’t tell us what is going on in the underlying economy.”

Among those calling for Sunak to come forward with plans quickly was co-chair of the New Conservatives group, Miriam Cates. 

She told PoliticsHome that the government could not claim it is difficult to “control legal migration” now that the UK has left the European Union, and insisted that ministers must reduce migration more before the next general election, which must be called before the end of 2024.

“It is fully within our control and therefore government policy is 100 per cent responsible for this number,” she said.

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