24th May 2017
Striking this balance has been at the heart of the Conservative Party’s manifesto pledges on immigration over the last seven years. The Tories have promised that the UK will continue to attract the skilled workers the economy needs whilst also renewing its pledge to cut net migration to “tens of thousands”.
With annual net migration at 273,000 last year, many voters may be left wondering what action the Conservatives will take to meet this target. Opposition parties have questioned the lack of detail and argued that having made similar election pledges in both 2010 and 2015, the Tories’ track record speaks for itself.
Since the renewed pledge was published, a number of senior Conservatives have sought to distance themselves from their party’s target. Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has described it as “an ambition”, while David Davis has confirmed the target will only be met in an “economically viable’ way. In some voters’ eyes, this is an acknowledgment that the target may not ever be met.
The Conservatives have also promised to double the Immigration Skills Charge, which was introduced in April 2017. The charge, currently £1,000 per year, applies to workers who are sponsored under Tier 2 of the points-based system. It must be paid up front at the time of sponsorship.
The proposed increase to £2,000 per year could add up to £5,000 to the cost of sponsoring a migrant worker from outside the EEA. An increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge to £600 per migrant worker has also been proposed. Whether these additional costs will deter employers from hiring non-EEA nationals remains to be seen. However, in areas where there are skills shortages, employers may have little option but to swallow the additional charges.
The Conservative manifesto also includes a commitment to protecting the rights of the three million EEA migrants residing in the UK and those UK migrants currently residing in the EEA.
The Labour Party, meanwhile, promises “fair rules and reasonable management” and states that it “values the economic and social contributions of immigrants”. It has refused to set an immigration target, instead promising to work with businesses and trade unions to develop an entirely new system which identifies and targets labour and skills shortages. This new system may include forms of employer sponsorship, visa regulation and work permits or a mix of all of these.
Labour has also pledged to reinstate the Migration Impact Fund, which would provide financial support for areas where immigration has placed a strain on public services. A levy on visa applications made by high net worth individuals would help to finance this fund.
These, of course, are only manifesto promises, and with the latest opinion polls suggesting the outcome of the general election is no longer a foregone conclusion, it remains to be seen whether these pledges will come to form part of immigration policy in the future.