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UK unveils new rules to cut immigrant numbers

LONDON (AP) – The British government announced tough new immigration rules on Monday that it says will reduce the number of people able to move to the United Kingdom (UK) each year by hundreds of thousands.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said he was taking “robust action” to lower authorised immigration, which hit a record level of almost 750,000 people in 2022. Critics said the moves would leave overstretched sectors like health and social care at a breaking point. Under the new rules, immigrants will have to earn more to get a work visa and will find it harder to bring family members to the UK.

Cleverly said that from the spring of 2024, prospective immigrants will have to earn GBP38,700 (USD48,900) to get a skilled worker visa, up from GBP26,200 (USD33,000) now.

British citizens who want to bring their foreign spouse to Britain will have to earn the same amount – almost double the current threshold.

Health and social care, sectors that are highly reliant on immigrant staff, are exempt from the salary rule.

A member of the United Kingdom Border Force helps child migrants on a beach at Dungeness, south-east England. PHOTO: AFP

But care workers from overseas will no longer be able to bring dependent relatives with them to Britain, leading to concerns in the industry that fewer will want to come.

The government also said it would scrap a rule that lets employers in sectors on a “shortage occupation list” pay immigrant workers 20 per cent less than UK citizens.

Starting in January, most foreign graduate students also will no longer be able to bring family members to the UK.

Cleverly said the new measures would reduce by 300,000 the number of people eligible to move to Britain in future years.

Revised figures released last month by the Office for National Statistics said net migration to the UK – the number of people arriving minus those leaving – was a record 745,000 in 2022. Net migration in the 12 months to June 2023 decreased to 672,000.

Reducing immigration is a totemic issue for many in the governing Conservative Party, who backed Britain’s exit from the European Union in order to “take back control” of the country’s borders.

Britain left the bloc in 2020, ending the automatic right of citizens from the 27 European Union nations to live and work in the UK.

Since then the number of visas issued for people to come to Britain for work or study has soared.

The country has also taken in hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war in Ukraine. The 2022 immigration figure is three times the pre-Brexit level.

The Conservatives believe cutting immigration will shore up votes ahead of an election next year, because many voters see immigrants as adding to pressure on already overstretched public services and worsening a housing crisis.