Government announces ban on foreign social care workers bringing dependents to drive down net migration
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The government will ban foreign social care workers from bringing their partners and family members to the UK to try and drive down net migration, James Cleverly has said. The Home Secretary also announced that the minimum salary requirement for a skilled worker from overseas will rise significantly to £38,700. This does not include NHS and social care staff. The income threshold for family visas, which includes foreign partners of British citizens, will rise to the same amount. The Home Office said there would be some exceptionality clauses.
These were part of a five-point plan Cleverly unveiled in the House of Commons this afternoon, as pressure ramps up on the government over record net migration. He claimed this will mean 300,000 fewer people will come to the Uk.
Last month’s figures revealed a new net migration record of 745,000 in December 2022, while the latest data for the 12 months to June 2023 showed 672,000 more people arrived in the UK than left. In the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto, the party promised to bring net migration below the data at the time, which was 224,000 from the 12 months to June 2019.
Instead, immigration has sky-rocketed, particularly since the UK left the EU in January 2020. The majority of this has been from foreign workers from outside the EU who, in particular, have been filling vacancies in the health and social care sector. The number of students coming to the UK has also risen, and the government will ban them from being dependents from next month unless they are studying a research postgraduate degree.
In an attempt to reduce net migration, Cleverly announced today:
- Social care workers will no longer be able to bring family members with them to the UK.
- The minimum salary threshold for skilled foreign workers will rise to £38,700 (not including health and social care workers).
- The 20% salary discount for foreign workers on the shortage occupation list will end.
- The minimum income for family visas will be raised to £38,700 - the same as the skilled foreign worker threshold.
- The Migration Advisory Committee will review the graduate visa route to "prevent abuse".
He told the Commons: “Migration to this country is far too high and needs to come down. Today we are taking more robust action than any government before to bring this down.” Cleverly said that when the UK voted for Brexit, it voted to take back control of our borders.
The focus on the measures will likely be around how they will affect social care workers. Banning dependents could put people off from coming to work in the UK. Unison, the UK’s biggest care workers’ union, previously told NationalWorld that the sector would collapse without foreign workers.
Head of social care, Gavin Edwards, said: “Migrant workers are propping up a crumbling care system that the government refuses to fund properly.
“Ministers are happy to demonise migrant workers to appease its right-wing backbenchers, but the truth is social care would collapse without them. Instead of causing worry and concern to migrant care workers with these proposals, the government should be delivering the funding and reform the care sector so desperately needs.”
General secretary Christina McAnea added: “Migrant workers were encouraged to come here because both sectors are critically short of staff. Hospitals and care homes simply couldn’t function without them. There’s also a global shortage of healthcare staff. Migrants will now head to more-welcoming countries, rather than be forced to live without their families.
“The government is playing roulette with essential services just to placate its backbenchers and the far right. But if ministers stopped ducking the difficult issues and reformed social care, as they’ve long promised, there wouldn’t be such a shortage of workers.
“None of this is rocket science. Fund care properly and raise wages, and the sector becomes a more attractive place to work, but take away the migrant workers currently stopping care from going under and it collapses.”
The Health Foundation recently described the social care workforce situation as “dire”. Around one in 10 job vacancies across England are not filled, compared with one in every 29 jobs across the rest of the UK. Brexit initially contributed to a sharp rise in workforce shortages in 2021, and in 2022/23 the government allowed the recruitment of 70,000 staff from abroad.
The government said it believes it will still be able to fill social care vacancies, as previously these jobs were over subscribed. A Home Office spokesman confirmed that foreign workers already in the country would be able to keep dependants when they came to renew their visas.
Dr Latifa Patel, from the British Medical Association, the union which represents doctors, previously told NationalWorld that the government should “dismiss these dangerous ideas". She said: "These suggestions are unnecessarily cruel and only serve to vilify those who come to this country and work extremely hard in roles many of us take for granted. Without our international colleagues' skills and experience, our health system would collapse.
She added: "An arbitrary cap on the number of health and social care visas will do nothing to help solve our current workforce crisis. Penalising our international colleagues by setting a minimum income level higher than the average UK salary, which will be out of reach for many in social care, and then separating them from their families is callous and short-sighted.
"We urge the government to dismiss these dangerous ideas. To do otherwise will decimate the social care workforce and exacerbate issues within the wider NHS, putting further strain on an already creaking system and affecting patient care."
While Marley Morris from think tank IPPR described the new family visa threshold as "a harsh measure which will force families to live apart". He said: "Today’s proposals are an attempt for the government to have its cake and eat it. The Home Office wants to bear down on migration of family members while keeping flexibility for employers to recruit from abroad.
“The end result will make health and care visas less attractive for care workers, while making it harder for employers to fill skills shortages. At the same time, the doubling of the minimum income threshold for spouses is a harsh measure which will force families to live apart.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Back in September we announced an additional package on students which will affect around 150,000 dependents, that comes in in January. We’ve acknowledged there’s more to do.
“We do have the ability to flex our system and we have responded to pressures we’ve faced, particularly around the Covid pandemic in the health and care sector. The numbers are too high, there is evidence of abuse in the system, and that’s what we will clamp down on today.”
Labour's Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said this was an "admission of years of total failure by this Conservative government". She said: “Failure on the immigration system and failure on the economy – it is another example of the total chaos at the heart of this government.
“Net migration has trebled since the last election – since the Conservatives promised to reduce it – and it’s trebled as a result of their policies on the economy and on immigration, including the Prime Minister’s policy decisions.
“In a chaotic panic the Prime Minister now opposes the policies he introduced and thinks that their own decisions are a problem, but who does the Home Secretary think has been in charge for the last 13 years? More chaos, more veering all over the place.”
Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.