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High levels of legal migration have for more than a decade dominated Britain’s political landscape, and Sunak has promised to gain more control after lawmakers in his Conservative Party criticised his record ahead of an election expected next year. Successive Conservative-led governments have promised to cut migration – once targeting a net figure of less than 100,000.
Interior Minister James Cleverly said on Monday the government would raise the minimum salary threshold for foreign skilled workers to 38,700 pounds ($48,800), from its current level of 26,200 pounds ($33,000), reform the list of jobs where exceptions are made due to shortages, and toughen rules on whether workers can bring their families.
“Migration to this country is far too high and needs to come down, and today we are taking more robust action than any other government before,” Cleverly told lawmakers.
“This package of measures will take place from next spring.”
The measures could lead to new disputes with business owners who have struggled to hire workers in recent years given Britain’s persistently tight labour market and the end of free movement from the European Union following Britain’s departure from the bloc.
Annual net migration to the UK hit a record of 745,000 last year and has stayed at high levels since, data showed last month.
“This package plus our reduction in student dependents will mean around 300,000 fewer people will come in future years than have come to the UK last year,” Cleverly said.
Brexit and border control
The leaders of the Brexit referendum campaign argued that leaving the EU would give Britain greater control of its borders, and many who voted to leave cited high migration and the pressure they believed it put on public services as factors in their decision.
But in recent years, Britain has opened visa schemes for people in Ukraine and former colony Hong Kong, while companies in sectors such as engineering, construction and catering have called on the government to allow them to hire international staff to offset labour shortages.
The data showed overall immigration in 2022 at about 1.16 million, offset by emigration of 557,000.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in May that 925,000 of those arriving in 2022 were non-EU nationals, 151,000 came from the EU and 88,000 were British citizens.
It estimated that in 2022 under the special visa schemes, there were 114,000 long-term arrivals from Ukraine and 52,000 from Hong Kong.
Net migration to Britain in 2015, the year before the Brexit referendum, was 329,000.
Sunak has also pledged to crack down on irregular migration after tens of thousands of people arrived on small boats across the English Channel from continental Europe in recent years.