Under increasing pressure to tackle the unprecedented levels of net migration, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak revealed a set of strict measures aimed at reducing the flow of migrants entering through legal channels.
According to Reuters, the move comes in response to the staggering annual net migration figure of 745,000 in 2022, with concerns raised about the impact on various sectors, including healthcare, and the persistently tight labour market.
Sunak emphasised the need for “radical action” to bring down immigration levels.
The proposed measures include a significant increase in the minimum salary threshold for foreign skilled workers, raising it to £38,700 (approximately $49,000) from the current £26,200 ($33,000). Notably, health and social workers would be exempted from this adjustment.
Home Secretary James Cleverly estimated that these measures could potentially reduce net migration by 300,000. The government also intends to halt foreign health workers from bringing in family members on their visas, increase the surcharge migrants pay for using the health service by 66 per cent, and elevate the minimum income requirement for family visas.
Impact on businesses and trade unions
While the government asserts that these measures aim to prioritise British workers and prevent immigration from undercutting their salaries, businesses and trade unions have voiced concerns. Critics argue that the reforms could exacerbate labour shortages, particularly in sectors already grappling with recruitment challenges.
The proposed abolition of the shortage occupations list, a vital route for businesses to hire migrant workers in sectors facing severe staff shortages, has sparked further debate. Trade unions, including UNISON, the primary health sector union, warn of a “total disaster” for the health service, predicting that migrants might opt for more welcoming countries.
Challenges and scepticism
Despite the government’s intent to address concerns about immigration, scepticism prevails. Some studies suggest that foreign workers have minimal impact on overall wage and employment levels. The acute shortage of candidates to fill vacancies remains a significant challenge for businesses.
Reuters cited Kate Nicholls, the Chief Executive of trade body UKHospitality who, expressed urgency in developing an immigration system that caters to business needs and the labour market. The Bank of England acknowledged persistent skills shortages in certain sectors, even as hiring becomes slightly more manageable.
Controversial moves and future outlook
As the UK embarks on this immigration overhaul, controversies loom, particularly regarding the potential fallout for businesses and essential services like healthcare. The government’s pledge to review the list of shortage occupations and eliminate the practice of paying migrants less than the going rate for jobs with labour shortages adds another layer to the unfolding reforms.