UK Election 2024: Immigration Law Reforms

Lewis Silkin


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The article summarizes immigration law changes proposed by major UK parties after the 2024 general election. It tracks key policies affecting net migration, work visas, health and care visas, family routes, EU settlement, asylum seekers, fees, and administration.
UK Immigration
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What immigration law changes should we expect after the UK general election? We're listing the key pledges in our tracker.

Our tracker explains the key legal migration policies announced by the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green parties to-date. The tracker focuses on the policies most likely to be of interest to employers.

The tracker includes pledges referred to in the press, as well as more formally in the Change – Labour Party Manifesto 2024, the Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto 2024, the Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2024 – For a Fair Deal and the Green Party General Election Manifesto 2024 – Real Hope. Real Change.

For a summary of the announced policies for employment law reforms, see our separate tracker here.

Net migration

Reduction in overall net migration figures

Labour have stated they will 'reduce net migration' and have circulated policies for sponsored work with a view to contributing to this. Labour believes not setting a net migration target is 'sensible' but expects its policies to reduce net migration to 'a couple of hundred thousand a year'.

The Conservatives' existing policy is to reduce net migration and since December 2023 they have been implementing a five-point plan to reform work and family migration. Their future initiatives to achieve this within specific immigration routes are discussed under the applicable headings of this tracker.

Notably, the Conservatives propose to place an annual cap on work and family routes. These would become lower every year of the next parliament. The level would be voted on by MPs annually and would be based on recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) which will require the MAC to take into account how migration impacts public services, wages and productivity.

General comment: The Office for Budget Responsibility's most recent forecast from March 2024 suggests that net migration should settle at around 350,000 per year over the next five years, taking into account the impact of the Conservatives' current immigration policies. This is without any further intervention to reduce the figures. The next Government should carefully consider the specifics its policies on net migration for various reasons, including that:

  • The net fiscal impact of 350,000 annual net migration is anticipated to be a net reduction in public sector borrowing of approximately £7.4 billion by 2028-2029, which would help to improve (rather than damage) public sector finances; and
  • A high proportion of the net migration figure are international students. The Migration Advisory Committee has recently observed that their tuition fees help to expand the range of courses offered while making up for financial losses on domestic students and research. They are increasingly participating as a short-term labour supply for UK businesses, both as Students and Graduate route participants.

Work routes

Annual cap on work routes

Labour does not intend to formally cap any immigration routes, but states there will be 'appropriate restrictions on visas'. Their plan is also to link immigration and skills policy more closely.

The Conservatives intend to cap worker visas, with temporary work routes such as the seasonal worker route being exempt. See the net migration section of this tracker for further information.

Skilled Worker visas

Labour have confirmed in the press (and more generally in their manifesto) that they intend to:

  • Address shortages in key areas such as construction, IT and engineering through reforming the apprenticeship levy to skill/upskill resident workers;
  • Require sponsors of key occupations in the above sectors, along with adult social care sponsors, to adhere to a government-determined workforce plan and fair pay agreement;
  • Disallow individual companies from sponsoring workers if they are considered not to be doing enough to carry out workforce training;
  • Remove occupations from the Immigration Salary List (formerly Shortage Occupation List) in circumstances where a sector is shown not to be engaging with its workforce plan (with opt-in exemptions if individual companies can show they are doing well against the plan);
  • Lengthen ineligibility periods for obtaining a sponsor licence and increase other visa penalties for 'rogue employers' who do not comply with and minimum wage and other employment laws; and
  • Strengthen the Migration Advisory Committee and link it to skills bodies UK-wide, the Industrial Strategy Council and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Labour also intend to commission the Migration Advisory Committee to investigate the effects of the Conservatives' April 2024 increases to salary thresholds under this route, as well as their March 2024 prohibition on care workers being accompanied by their dependants.

The Conservatives have committed to setting an annual cap on work route visas as part of their overall net migration reduction policy. Eligibility criteria for work routes have already been significantly tightened in April 2024, including making salary thresholds substantially higher for the Skilled Worker route.

The Conservatives would increase Skilled Worker salary thresholds automatically in line with inflation. It is not clear whether this would be annually or on another basis of regularity.

The Liberal Democrats would abolish salary thresholds in favour of a 'more flexible merit-based system'. They would also give government departments other than the Home Office responsibility for working with employers to address skills gaps from within the UK. They would increase the participation of devolved administrations to develop the evidence base for ensuring work visa rules are sensitive to the needs of every nation and sector within the UK.

General comment: The October 2023 immigration application fee increases and April 2024 rises to salary thresholds for the Skilled Worker route have effectively priced out most roles below graduate level, as well individuals who are early in their career in graduate roles. While this may contribute to a reduction in net migration, it will also exacerbate skills shortages in certain sectors, including hospitality, retail and construction. The next UK Government should pause to take stock of this effect and ideally should consider more nuanced sector and regional-based policies rather than applying blanket measures. The logic and composition of the Immigration Salary List should be reviewed as a priority, as recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee.

Health and Care visas

Labour intend to establish a new body to enforce employment rights, and to instruct this to investigate the exploitation of migrant workers in the social care sector.

The Conservatives have made changes from March 2024 to require care providers in England to be registered with the Care Quality Commission to sponsor Carers and Senior Carers, and have ended the ability of workers in these occupations only to be accompanied by family members.

The Liberal Democrats would exempt NHS and care workers from the Immigration Skills charge and would reinstate the ability for Carers and Senior Carers to be accompanied by their family members.

General comment: When Carers and Senior Carers became eligible for sponsorship in February 2022, this produced a large spike in Health and Care visa entry clearance grants. Grants in this route are now below the level they were before this introduction, suggesting that there is a cooling of overall take-up of Health and Care in non-carer occupations. The Home Office has also recognised that the availability of sponsorship for Carers and Senior Carers has led to abuse of the sponsorship arrangements by unscrupulous employers and to exploitation of migrant workers.

The next UK Government should consider:

  • Investigating and addressing the exploitation of migrant labour in the care sector, including whether this may be exacerbated by the ban on accompanying family members;
  • Investigating and addressing the exploitation of migrant labour in the health and care sector more generally; and
  • Analysing whether more liberal short-term immigration measures are required to assist the NHS and other health and care providers to address skills shortages, while also taking steps to improve training and retention of workers (both domestic and migrant) within the UK's health and care system.

Creative Workers

General comment: The cost and administration for touring between the UK and Europe has increased for many performers post-Brexit, so more facilitative immigration provisions could benefit this industry, as argued in the report published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Music, Let the Music Move - A New Deal for Touring.

Youth Mobility Scheme

The Conservatives have also rejected the possibility of an EU-wide deal on youth mobility, preferring to negotiate arrangements with individual countries.

The Liberal Democrats would negotiate a reciprocal Youth Mobility Scheme with the EU. They would also increase the upper age limit for participating countries from 30 to 35, extend the validity of these visas to three years and abolish the application fees for this route.

General comment: An EU-UK youth mobility scheme of the type recently proposed for consideration by the EU may have significant implications for increasing net migration numbers and would be considerably more liberal than the arrangements in place for other participating countries. It is therefore unlikely to be entertained by the next UK Government, although a significantly slimmed-down version may not be dismissed altogether.

Expansion of the Youth Mobility Route more generally could assist with addressing labour shortages in areas including hospitality and leisure, retail and childcare (including au pair work). The fact this route is unsponsored and used by young people choosing to combine work and cultural experience means the profile of migrant is less likely to be subject to worker exploitation.

Seasonal Workers

Labour have suggested they may introduce legislation and enforcement measures to tackle exploitation of migrant workers under this route.

The Conservatives have confirmed the Seasonal Worker route will remain in place until 2029 to give businesses time to plan to address labour shortages in the UK food supply chain. The party has not made any dedicated commitment in its manifesto to address worker exploitation under the route.

General comment: While measures to maintain the UK agricultural sector's capacity to produce food for domestic consumption and export are important for meeting food security needs, so is safeguarding the welfare of the people working in the industry, including migrant workers.

The current Government introduced a minimum 32-hour week guarantee for Seasonal Workers in April 2023 and has stated the welfare of migrant workers is being monitored at a higher level than previously. However, currently the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner is vacant, and recommendations relating to migrant workers from the Horticultural Sector Committee in their report, Sowing the seeds: a blooming English horticultural sector should be considered for taking forward to better protect Seasonal Workers UK-wide.


Amendments to Student route sponsorship and administration

Labour recognises the 'major contribution' made by international students and states they would be led by evidence on how the presence of students impacts overall migration. However, they have not yet made any specific policy announcements in this area.

The Conservatives have confirmed they intend to:

  • Require universities to agree to more strictly regulate the international recruitment agents they use;
  • Tighten the student enrolment and course completion requirements for student route sponsors to retain their sponsor licence;
  • Increase the financial maintenance requirements for students; and
  • Restrict remote delivery of courses for international students to ensure they are mainly being taught face-to-face.

The Liberal Democrats would transfer responsibility for student visa policy to departments other than the Home Office. They would also increase the participation of devolved administrations to develop the evidence base for ensuring student visa rules are sensitive to the needs of every nation and sector within the UK.

General comment: When setting Government policies on international students, tensions will continue to exist between seeing international students as an important export earner and generator of soft power for the UK on the one hand, and a contributor to net migration figures on the other. A more joined-up policy across Government departments will be important for ensuring a coherent approach and messaging for international students, and for Government advisers such as the Migration Advisory Committee to make recommendations on immigration policy for this cohort.

Family routes

Annual cap on family routes

Labour does not intend to formally cap any immigration routes.

The Conservatives intend to cap family visas. See the section of this tracker on net migration for further information.

Minimum income requirement for the Partner route

Labour broadly supports increases to the minimum income requirement. This was increased by the Conservatives from £18,600 per year to £29,000 per year from 11 March 2024.

The Conservatives intend to further raise the minimum income requirement for the Partner route from £29,000 to £34,500 during 2024 and £38,700

The Conservatives would also increase the minimum income requirement automatically in line with inflation. It is not clear whether this would be annually or on another basis of regularity.

The Liberal Democrats would reverse the minimum income requirement for the Partner route, returning this to £18,600.

The Green Party state they would end the minimum income requirements 'for spouses of those holding work visas' however it is not clear whether they intend this to mean individuals under the Partner route or the partner dependants of individuals in work routes.

General comment: The UK is currently ranked 55th out of 56 countries surveyed under the Migrant Integration Policy Index for ease of family reunification and integration. The next Government could be more ambitious than simply reviewing the minimum income requirement by committing to take a more wide-ranging review of the family routes in terms of the overall social and economic benefits and costs of family reunification. This route could also benefit from a review of visa application fees in terms of their lack of affordability for families, particularly in relation to the ten-year route to settlement.

EU Settlement Scheme

Acquisition of Settled Status

The Conservatives intend to introduce automatic assessment of eligibility for Settled Status during the course of 2024 but no specific date has been set.

The Liberal Democrats propose to grant automatic Settled Status to all EU Settlement Scheme participants.

General comment: There are ongoing concerns regarding the administration of the EU Settlement Scheme, including on whether it operates in compliance with the Brexit Withdrawal Agreements.

Although enhancements to the scheme have been agreed following legal action by the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens' Rights Agreements, some of these are not yet implemented, for example a process for automatically considering settled status eligibility and changes to right to work and right to rent checks for pre-settled status holders.

The systems for eligibility-checking scheme participants and for them to prove their status are inexact and contain errors that may lead to real-world detriments for participants. The next Government will need to grapple with these issues, particularly due to the fact many pre-settled status holders' initial five-year permission will be coming up for 'expiry' within the next couple of years.

Evidence of status

The Conservatives currently only issue physical status documents to a minority of scheme participants, with most participants holding an eVisa. Physical immigration documents are due to be phased-out entirely by the end of 2024.

The Liberal Democrats are committed to ensuring all EU Settlement Scheme participants have access to physical proof of their status.

General comment: EU Settlement Scheme participants were the first cohort of migrants to be granted digital immigration status and have reported significant problems with being able to prove their status when travelling, proving their right to work, proving their right to rent and accessing Government services such as the NHS.

The next Government should take the opportunity to review the experiences of these participants and pause to ensure the problems with existing systems are rectified before taking any further actions to phase out physical immigration documents. In the interim, it should also consider providing physical immigration documents to existing digital visa holders, including EU Settlement Scheme participants.

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The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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