Plan to cut legal migration levels is ‘working’, Home Secretary insists

The Home Secretary has insisted the Government’s plan to cut legal migration levels is “working” despite figures signalling a jump in the number of people applying for work visas.

James Cleverly hailed the latest provisional Home Office data which suggested the number of overseas student and foreign care worker visa applications continues to fall.

But the figures to April 2024 also indicate the number of skilled worker visa applications has risen by 50% in the first four months of the year compared with the same period in 2023, prompting Labour to accuse the Government of having “no grip on immigration”.

The Government has gradually introduced a raft of restrictions since the start of the year amid pressure to cut the record high number of people legally arriving in Britain.

Measures including a ban on overseas care workers bringing family dependants and a drastically hiked salary threshold for skilled workers to £38,700 aim to slash the number of people arriving in Britain by 300,000 a year.

Meanwhile reforms meant overseas students were banned from bringing their family with them to the UK and made it harder for Britons earning under the national average to bring over foreign spouses.

The figures come a day before the Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes the latest net migration estimates alongside the department’s quarterly immigration statistics.

According to the Home Office data published on Wednesday, the number of skilled worker visa applications rose year-on-year. There were 29,200 main applicants in the first four months of 2024, up 41% from 20,700 in the same period in 2023, plus 26,300 dependants, up 62% from 16,200.

The figures for main applicants and dependants combined, compared with the figure for January to April last year (36,900 and 55,500 respectively), indicate a 50% rise.

The minimum salary threshold for people coming to the UK on skilled worker visas rose on April 4. The change in rules could indicate a last minute surge in applications. In April alone, the Home Office figures suggest the department received applications from 10,100 main applicants and 6,500 for dependants in this visa route.

The figures also suggest the number of applications to come to the UK on a health and care worker visa fell by more than three-quarters in the first four months of this year compared with the equivalent period in 2023.

Some 12,400 main applications were made from January to April 2024, down 76% from 50,900 in January to April the previous year. The number of dependants included in these applications fell 6% from 59,300 in January to April 2023 to 55,700 in the same period this year.

“An overburdened NHS will continue to pay the price for a failing care sector. Many of the patients lining corridors in hospitals should be supported properly at home instead.

“A safely staffed social care sector requires rule changes, clear investment and improving pay and conditions.”

There were 43,600 main applicants for a sponsored study visa in January to April 2024, down 12% from 49,400 in the equivalent period in 2023. Dependants included in these applications fell 79% from 38,900 to 8,300.

The Home Office said it will be “necessary to await the peak in student applications for the next academic year”, which usually comes in August and September, before it will be possible to see the “full effect of recent policy changes and any other impacts”.

Mr Cleverly said: “The plan to deliver the largest-ever cut to legal migration in our country’s history is working.

“This monthly data is the most up-to-date picture of visa levels, showing that on current trajectories legal migration continues to fall across key routes.”

The measures will be kept “under close review” and “if needed, we will not hesitate to go further,” he added.

Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock described the Government as “scrambling around, desperately trying to clean up the mess they made”.

Thursday’s ONS figures, to December 2023, will provide a comparison with the previous 12 months and cover a period preceding the introduction of the Government’s reforms so they are unlikely to show a significant reduction in net migration levels.

The Home Office stressed the ONS figures “do not take into account the major package measures announced in December which have already started to have an effect”.

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