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UK election 2024: immigration policy tracker

28 May 2024

This table compares statements on immigration policy made by the Conservative Party and Labour Party ahead of the 2024 election. It covers both visas and the asylum system and will be updated as the election campaign progresses.

The table includes statements about policy that our team has been able to identify as of 12th June 2024. Note that some sources are older than others and may be changed or superseded by new ones. Readers can send any additional sources to ben.brindle@compas.ox.ac.uk

  1. Key Points

Asylum and migration enforcement policies compared

Policy areaWhat is it?ConservativesLabour
Small boatsFrom 1 January 2018 to 31 December 2023, around 114,000 people were detected crossing the Channel in small boats without permission. Most claim asylum on arrival.

More: People crossing the English Channel in small boats and UK policies to deter people from claiming asylum
The Conservative Party response has focused on enforcement and deterrence. They argue that the Illegal Migration Act and Rwanda policy will deter people from coming to the UK by small boat to claim asylum. The act, passed in 2023, prevents most people who arrive in the UK without authorisation from receiving a decision on their asylum claim.

The party has increased cooperation with France, with the aim of intercepting small boats before they arrive in the UK. It also signed an agreement with the EU to tackle smuggler gangs.

In government, the Conservatives signed agreements with various countries of origin. For example, an agreement with Albania aimed to increase removals of Albanians without immigration status. The party would sign further returns deals if they are re-elected.
The Labour Party has said it wants to spend money currently earmarked for the Rwanda scheme on enforcement activity instead. It would establish a new ‘Border Security Command’ to prosecute gangs operating small boat routes and enhance security cooperation with the EU. In addition, Labour wants to enable police to search people suspected of being involved in people smuggling and enact new powers to monitor their financial accounts.

Labour has also said it wants to negotiate a deal with the EU to return asylum seekers to EU countries.
Rwanda policyUnder the Rwanda policy, certain people who enter the UK without authorisation, including asylum seekers, can be removed to Rwanda. The Rwandan government would decide their asylum claims and grant them asylum in Rwanda, not the UK, if they are determined to be refugees.

More: Q&A: The UK’s policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda
In response to a Supreme Court ruling that the plan was unlawful, the government introduced a new UK-Rwanda treaty, and a new bill to reduce legal obstacles to removing people to Rwanda. Removals would begin in July 2024. The Conservative Party has left open the possibility of leaving the European Court of Human Rights if they are unable to enact the policy.

On 15 May 2024, the government broadened the scope of the Rwanda scheme so that failed asylum seekers could now be removed to Rwanda.
Labour say they would cancel the policy.

However, in December 2023, Labour were reportedly exploring whether asylum claims could be processed overseas, with successful applicants able to live in the UK.

They have also said they want to sign a returns deal with the EU.
Asylum backlogA large backlog of unprocessed asylum claims built up between 2018 and 2022, although it started to fall in 2023. The backlog has led to additional costs due to the need to provide asylum seekers with support and accommodation while they wait for a decision.

More: The UK’s asylum backlog
The Conservative Party manifesto says that all asylum cases would be processed within six months. It is unclear what this will mean in practice as the Illegal Migration Act, which the manifesto says it will enforce, prevents the government from processing most asylum applications. A Conservative spokesperson indicated that people who have arrived in the UK since the act came into law would be removed, e.g. to Rwanda.

In government, the Conservatives sharply increased the number of caseworkers making decisions to clear the backlog of older asylum cases. It also introduced new processes to streamline processing, including deciding certain asylum cases based on a written questionnaire rather than an interview and grouping together applications by nationality.
Keir Starmer has said the Labour Party would hire additional caseworkers and create a “new fast-track returns and enforcement unit” to clear the asylum backlog.

Other policies proposed by the party to clear the asylum backlog include the creation of temporary courts, which Labour says would enable legal challenges against removal to be heard quickly. In December 2022, it said that asylum applications from countries it deemed to be safe, including Albania and India, would be "fast-tracked".

 

Legal migration policies compared

Policy areaWhat is it?ConservativesLabour
Net migration levelsNet migration is the measure of migration most commonly used in the UK political debate. It is the number of people coming to UK from overseas, minus the number of people leaving.

In 2023, net migration was 685,000, well above levels of around 200,000 to 300,000 seen during the 2010s.

More: Net migration to the UK
The Conservative Party has said immigration is too high and has proposed an annual cap on work and family migration. The specific level would be based on recommendations by the Migration Advisory Committee, who would be given a remit to reduce net migration year-on-year while taking the economic impact of migration into account.

In December 2023, the Home Secretary, James Cleverly announced several measures designed to reduce immigration levels. Specific changes are discussed with the relevant policy area.
The Labour Party has not set a specific target for net migration level, but Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the party would introduce measures to reduce net migration. These changes are discussed within the relevant policy area.
Work migrationThe Skilled Worker visa is the largest work migration route in the UK. People coming to the UK on this visa must be sponsored for a job which meets certain skill and salary requirements.

Jobs added to the Immigration Salary List (previously Shortage Occupation List) can meet a lower salary threshold to be valid for a visa.

More: Migrants in the UK Labour Market: An Overview, How will new salary thresholds affect UK migration? and The ban on care workers’ family members: what will be the impact?
The government initially liberalised non-EU work migration after Brexit, but partially reversed the liberalisations in early 2024. Care workers have been unable to bring their dependants to the UK since March 2024, and the minimum salary required for a Skilled Worker visa increased from £26,200 to £38,700 in April 2024. There are some exemptions to the salary threshold, such as for care and senior care workers.

In addition, people coming to the UK to work in jobs on the Immigration Salary List must be paid either £30,960 or the median earnings for the specific occupation, whichever is higher.

Levels of work migration would be subject to an annual cap if the party is re-elected (see net migration levels), and the Skilled Worker salary threshold would be increased in line with inflation.
Labour says it would ask the Migration Advisory Committee to review the impact of raising the Skilled Worker salary threshold to £38,700, but the ban on care workers' dependants would be retained.

Under Labour's proposals, the Migration Advisory Committee would be linked to bodies setting out industrial and skills strategy. Government departments and employers in sectors applying for high numbers of Skilled Worker visas would be required to draw up "skills improvement plans" to train UK-based workers. The party has also said it would revoke sponsor licenses from employers which do not comply.

Related to this, in November 2022, the Shadow Immigration Minister, Stephen Kinnock, said the party would review the decision to scrap the ‘resident labour market test’, which requires employers to show they have tried to recruit in UK before hiring from overseas.

Employers who breach employment law, such as by paying below the minimum wage, would be banned from hiring migrant workers.
Student migration and the graduate routeThe migration of international students and their family members is the largest single group explaining the rise in net migration since 2019. In 2023, 143,500 visas were issued to student dependants, an all-time high.

After graduating, international students can live and work in the UK for two years (or three, if they are a PhD graduate) by switching to a post-study work visa, known as the Graduate Visa.

More: Student migration to the UK
In January 2024, the Conservative Party banned most students from bringing their family members with them to the UK.

The Conservatives have proposed further measures to address “rogue recruitment agents”, restrict remote teaching, and make it possible for universities who accept international students who fail to pass Home Office visa checks to lose their sponsor licences.
The Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, has said that Labour will retain the ban on students’ family members.

The Labour Party has not publicly commented on the review of the Graduate Route.
Family income thresholdThe minimum income that British citizens and migrants with Indefinite Leave to Remain must earn to bring partners and children from overseas to live with them in the UK. It was first introduced in 2012.

More: Family fortunes: The UK’s new income requirement for partner visas
The minimum income requirement was increased from £18,600 to £29,000 in April 2024. This was the first of three proposed rises. The Conservatives have said they plan to raise the threshold until it reaches £38,700 in early 2025.

The Conservative Party manifesto says this threshold would be automatically increased in line with inflation if the party is re-elected.
A Labour Party spokesperson has reportedly said that the Party has “real concerns” about the increase in the minimum income requirement to £38,700, and would ask the Migration Advisory Committee to review the change.
Immigration feesMigrants applying for UK visas must usually pay fees. The main costs include: visa application fees; applications fees for in-country visa extensions; the Immigration Health Surcharge; and settlement and citizenship fees.

More: Q&A: Immigration fees in the UK
In October 2023, the Home Office increased the fees for various immigration and nationality applications. The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) was increased in February 2024. The government suggested that the fee increase would indirectly help to fund a pay rise for the police, while the higher rate of IHS would reflect the estimated average cost of providing NHS services to migrants who face the surcharge.

If re-elected, the Conservatives would increase immigration application fees by 25% and remove the Immigration Health Surcharge discount for international students. In addition, migrants would be required to undergo a health check before receiving an entry visa. Those who are more likely to use the NHS would either be charged a higher rate of IHS or would have to buy health insurance.
The Labour Party has not publicly commented on the increases to immigration charges.
Youth Mobility Scheme visasThe Youth Mobility visa scheme (YMS) gives non-renewable work visas to younger people (usually aged 18 to 30) with which the UK has signed an agreement. YMS holders do not need an employer to sponsor them and are not tied to specific jobs. There are caps on visa numbers for each nationality.

In April 2024, the EU published a proposal to negotiate a YMS with the UK

More: Work visas and migrant workers in the UK
A government spokesperson said that the party “are not introducing an EU-wide youth mobility scheme”. According to newspaper reports, it has previously offered bilateral YMS deals to individual EU countries, including Spain, Germany and Poland.In response to the EU’s proposals, a Labour Party spokesperson said that the party has “no plans for a youth mobility scheme” with the EU.
Exploitation of migrant care workersWhile it is not possible to quantify the scale of exploitation of migrants workers in the care sector, qualitative evidence suggests it is a widespread issue.

Reported types of exploitation highlighted by the Migration Advisory Committee and ICIBI include modern slavery, unpaid hours, and bonded labour (i.e., being forced to work to pay off debts).
Since March 2024, care providers must be registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to sponsor migrant care workers. Labour has said it would launch a "full investigation" into the treatment of migrant care workers.

More broadly, Labour would ban employers which breach employment law from hiring migrant workers.

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