Immigration proposals from the second debate

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Opposition Leader Keir Starmer faced their second round of questions of the election campaign last week Tuesday in Grimsby (11.06.24). Tuesday’s Sky News debate presented viewers with a different format. Rather than a traditional head to head debate, Sunak and Starmer were each interviewed separately by Political Editor Beth Rigby for 20 minutes. This was followed by a 25 minute audience Q&A which was also separate. Interestingly, Starmer did not face any questions about immigration during his interview. However, the Prime Minister was questioned rigorously about Conservative immigration policy, specifically net migration and the Rwanda scheme.

Sunak’s immigration pledges during the second debate of the election campaign


Rishi Sunak, once again reaffirmed his commitment to the Rwanda Scheme. Sunak informed the audience that the government have already began to detain people. The first set of flights have been booked for July 25, three week after the election date. Sunak stated the once the scheme begins, there will be a “regular rhythm of flights” and that it is about “establishing a deterrent” so that “if people arrive in the country illegally, they should not be able to stay but there should be somewhere safe to send them.”

Question One

Sunak was asked by the host Beth Rigby about why he decided to call an election before voters could see the Rwanda Scheme in action.

To this he responded “Elections are vital. First, we need to establish an economic foundation. After this, we can deal with the future of the country in terms of migration. Kier Starmer cannot tell you what he would do with illegal migrants.”

Question Two

The host Beth Rigby then questioned Sunak about legal migration:  “People are also frustrated about legal migration. One of the reasons that people voted Brexit was to take back control of our borders. Total net migration figures in the UK have reached 1.9 million in the last 3 years. Total net migration prior to 2016 was 836,000 … Why should anyone trust what you say about immigration?”

Sunak responded: “It is too high and I’ve been clear that it is too high. I supported Brexit and I believe that this is frustrating. However, the Tory government has taken action to change things. In 2023, numbers were down 10%. This year, visas issues were down by a quarter. Forecasts show that we will be down to half net migration in just over a years’ time. So hopefully that provides confidence that we are heading in the right direction.”

“To give an example of some of the things we’ve done; we’ve clamped down on the abuse of the Health and Care visa. We’ve tightened the number of dependents students can bring and raised minimum income salary requirement. You now have to earn £38,500 to get a work visa. These policies are starting to have an effect, net migration is down by a quarter. Forecast show that it (net migration) will fall by half over the next year.”

Sunak rounded up his answer by telling the audience that Starmer is yet to provide voters with a clear and concise plan for dealing with net migration and illegal migration.

What exactly are Keir Starmer’s plans to deal with illegal immigration?

Starmer has been clear that although he believes that net migration is too high, Labour will scrap the Rwanda Scheme immediately if elected on July 4. The Labour manifesto, released last week, described the Rwanda Scheme as nothing more than a desperate costly gimmick that “…has already cost hundreds of millions of pounds.” “Even if it got off the ground, it can only address fewer than 1% of asylum seekers arriving. It cannot work.”

Rather than sending migrants abroad to Rwanda, Labour have pledged to focus their efforts on going after the criminal gangs who “trade in driving the crisis”. They plan to do so by creating a new Border Security Command. This will be funded by ending the Migration and Economic Partnership with Rwanda. Labour will also set up a new returns and enforcement unit. This will fast-track removals to safe countries for people who do not have the right to stay in the UK.

Proposed Labour immigration policy

Although Starmer is against the Rwanda Scheme, he appreciates the vitality of safe routes such as those that the UK has with Ukraine and Afghanistan. Labour plans to increase the number of safe countries that refused asylum seekers can swiftly be sent back to. Labour also plans to work with international partners to address the humanitarian crises which lead people to flee their homes. They also plan to strengthen support refugees in their home regions.

At face value, Labour’s proposed migration strategy seems far more compassionate than the Conservative’s policy. Whether it will be effective in appeasing the electorate and reducing net migration can only be judged if Labour win the election on July 4.

How do Labour’s proposed immigration policies compare to Conservative immigration policy?

Under Sunak’s Conservative Regime, stark changes have been made to almost every single key visa category. The majority of these changes were made under Home Secretary James Cleverley’s 5 Point Plan . Under the 5 Point Plan:

  • Individuals entering the U.K on a Health and Care Worker visa can no longer bring family dependants with them to the U.K. or sponsor them to join them in the U.K.
  • From 4 April 2024, the minimum salary requirement for an individual entering the U.K on a Skilled Worker visa will increase from £26,000 to £38,700 per annum.
  • From 14 March 2024, the 20% going rate discount for occupations on the Shortage Occupation List will be scrapped and replaced by the new ‘Immigration Salary List’. The new Immigration Salary List will contain a significantly reduced number of occupations.
  • From 11 April 2024, the minimum salary requirement for an individual arriving in the U.K on a Spouse Visa will rise in stages from £29,000 and is set to reach £38,7000 by early 2025. This is a significant jump from the current rate minim income threshold of £18,600 per annum.
  • The Graduate visa route is also set to be restricted.
Proposed Conservative immigration policy

A more recent development in proposed Conservative immigration policy is a net migration cap. According to the Prime Minister, the will “…ensure that public services are protected and housing is not overburdened…”

If re-elected, the Conservatives would give Parliament an annual vote. MPs and peers would be expected to set a cap for visas for skilled workers including health and social care, family reunions and graduates. Overseas students will be exempt from the proposed migration cap.

The proposed migration cap is part of Sunak’s “bold plan to reduce immigration to bring net migration down to “sustainable” levels.

Net migration reached a record high of 764,000 in in 2022 and decreased by 10% to 685,000 in 2023. From these figures, it can be assumed that the migration cap may be around the 600,000 or 500,000 mark to appease the public.

Final debate

Sunak and Starmer will go head to head in their third and final bid to sway voters on June 26. It is likely that both Sunak and Starmer will face even tougher questions about net migration due to mounting pressure from the electorate and other political opponents.

By Mya Alghali

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Thomas Chase Immigration offer immigration assistance to individuals and families.

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