UK Election 2024: Key Immigration Law Reforms to Watch

a polling station sign on the pavement
Back To Latest News

Current State of Immigration Policy

Immigration remains a “hot topic” in UK politics, especially in the current election – dubbed by some the “immigration election”. Even the traditionally pro-immigration Labour Party has committed to reducing migration:

“Under the Conservatives, our economy has become overly dependent on workers from abroad to fill skills shortages. As a result, we have seen net migration reach record highs; more than triple the level at the last election in 2019. The overall level must be properly controlled and managed… Labour will reduce net migration.”

The current Conservative Government has already implemented several measures to address immigration concerns following the UK’s exit from the European Union:

  • Dependents Restriction: Ended dependents for most international students and care workers.
  • Salary Requirements: Abolished the 20% going-rate salary discount for shortage occupations and increased the minimum salary threshold for skilled worker and family visas to £38,700.
  • Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS): Increased to £1,035.

Net migration to the UK has been at some of the highest levels in recent years, and these measures are anticipated to bring about the largest ever reduction in legal migration in the UK (300,000).

Opinions on immigration policy range from the Liberal Democrats’ open stance, and a possible return to the European Union, to Reform UK’s tougher approach to free non-essential immigration and reduce net migration levels to zero. Given we are looking at a likely change to a Labour government, the approach taken under the current conservative government is likely to be subject to change. We have explored, below, the approaches of the main political parties in the build-up to the upcoming General Election.

Future Directions

Labour Party

The Labour Party’s election manifesto differentiates clearly between asylum and immigration. The manifesto pledges reform to the points-based immigration system to ensure it is fair and well-managed, with appropriate visa restrictions in place. Labour’s manifesto pledges to reduce net migration:

“Under the Conservatives, our economy has become overly dependent on workers from abroad to fill skills shortages. As a result, net migration has reached record highs; more than triple the level at the last election in 2019. The overall level must be properly controlled and managed… Labour will reduce net migration”.

A key aspect of Labour’s policy is to reduce the UK’s reliance on immigration by increasing the skill levels of the domestic population, thereby filling gaps in various sectors. While their flagship immigration policy is designed for the long term, the manifesto is less specific about short and medium-term strategies. It is unclear how Labour will address any economic shortcomings while their long-term plans take effect, especially given it has confirmed it will reduce net migration (although, it is unclear when that target is expected to be achieved).

Staying true to their image as the party of the working man, Labour has committed to punishing employers who are non-compliant with employment law or abuse of the visa system, barring them from hiring workers from abroad.

Conservative Party

During their 14-year tenure, the Conservatives have adopted an increasingly interventionist stance on immigration. Along with recent reforms, which are likely to reduce net migration significantly, they have proposed additional restrictions to reduce numbers further, such as a legally binding cap on migration (for work and family visas), which includes a fixed number of work and family visas that would decrease annually and be voted on by Parliament (to hold the government accountable to the public). They also plan to raise salary requirements for skilled worker and family visas in line with inflation. Proposed reforms to the IHS include removing the current discount for students and requiring health screenings for migrants before travel, potentially resulting in higher IHS payments or compulsory health insurance purchases. These changes are included to reduce the burden on public services.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats, likely the most Europhilic of all the main parties, have a more liberal approach to immigration. They recognize the UK’s history of welcoming newcomers and propose expanding the Youth Mobility Scheme to EU countries as well by increasing the age limit from 30 to 35, abolishing fees, and extending the length of stay from 2 to 3 years. They also advocate granting full settled status to individuals with Pre-Settled Status, many of whom are EU nationals.

For workers, the Lib Dems promise to end current restrictions on foreign workers bringing dependents to the UK and to abolish salary thresholds in favour of a “merits-based system” to fill skill gaps. While the specifics of this system are yet to be detailed, they have pledged to exempt NHS and care staff from paying the IHS and to reverse the increase in income thresholds for family visas. The Lib Dems also aim to depoliticize immigration policy by transferring policymaking out of the Home Office and overhauling the Immigration Rules to make them “simpler, clearer, and fairer,” with greater Parliamentary scrutiny.

Reform UK

On the other end of the political spectrum, Reform UK has taken a stringent stance on immigration. Without providing extensive details, they have pledged to “freeze” all non-essential immigration, including banning all students, instead of most students (as is current policy), from bringing partners and children to the UK. They propose an Employer Immigration Tax, requiring employers with foreign workers to pay a higher national insurance rate (20% compared to 13.8% for British citizens). Exemptions would be available for health and social care sectors and businesses employing fewer than five staff members. They are also proposing a 5-year residency and employment requirement for migrants to claim benefits in the UK.

Impact on Businesses

Immigration remains a highly controversial and politically charged area. Despite varying approaches among parties, common themes emerge: changes are coming quickly, which are increasingly complex, and there are strict penalties for non-compliance. As the landscape of immigration law evolves, it is crucial for businesses to stay informed and compliant. At Capital Law, we offer expertise to navigate these turbulent times, ensuring that your business complies with evolving immigration laws.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the General Election and its potential impact on business immigration, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here.