Jenrick insists UK workers will fill labour gaps after migration crackdown

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Robert Jenrick says he is prepared to “take further steps” if net migration does not come down.
By Sam Francis
Political reporter, BBC News

Gaps in the labour market caused by new immigration plans will “be filled by British workers”, the immigration minister has said.

Robert Jenrick said the government’s five-point plan will cut net migration to the UK “by at least 300,000”, from its current record high.

Businesses can no longer rely on foreign labour to fill gaps, he said.

But the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the plans fail to deal with the UK’s labour shortages.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Jenrick said the government did not want to cut net migration “for abstract reasons”.

“We want to build an economy which is more productive where employers invest in their staff and in their skills and pay,” he said.

The immigration plans were part of a broader mission set out in the Autumn Statement, which saw an increase in the national living wage increased and a £2.5bn overhaul of benefits for people with long-term health conditions or disabilities, or those facing long-term unemployment, Mr Jenrick said.

“My message for big business is it is not right that they reach for the easy lever of foreign labour in the first instance – we want them to be improving and investing in British workers,” he said.

“We want to see a country in which business invest in the domestic workforce,” Mr Jenrick said.

Mr Jenrick said the government is still committed to its 2019 manifesto promise to reduce net legal migration to 225,000, and he suggested further measures may be needed.

The migration plan comes after official figures last month showed net migration had soared to a record 745,000 in 2022.

Conservative MPs have since piled pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his government to bring down net migration, which is the difference between those entering and leaving the UK.

Mr Sunak has previously declined to say he wants to stick to the 2019 manifesto pledge. In May he said the numbers were “too high” but that he did not “want to put a precise number on it”.

Further steps

On Monday, Home Secretary James Cleverly announced plans to hike the minimum salary needed for skilled overseas workers to £38,700.

He also announced that from next spring, health and care workers will be banned from bringing family dependants to the UK.

According to Mr Jenrick, overseas workers in the UK will be considered for “short term placements” without their families to avoid extra strain on public services.

The Royal College of Nursing criticised the proposals, labelling it cruel and saying it “will only add to the dire workforce crisis in the health and care sector”.

But Mr Jenrick said the scheme “will see a reduction in the number of people coming to work in social care from overseas”.

Any vacancies in health and social care “we hope and expect will be filled by British workers,” Mr Jenrick said.

On top of the new salary requirements and ban on dependents the government said it would:

End companies being able to pay workers 20% less than the going rate for jobs on a shortage occupation list
Increase the annual charge foreign workers pay to use the NHS from £624 to £1,035
Raise the minimum income for family visas to £38,700, from £18,600 from next spring
Ask the government’s migration adviser to review the graduate visa route to “prevent abuse”

The government was prepared to “take further steps” if net migration does not come down, Mr Jenrick said.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Monday’s announcement was “an admission of years of Tory failure on both the immigration system and the economy”.

She said while net migration “should come down”, the Conservatives were “failing to introduce more substantial reforms that link immigration to training and fair pay requirements in the UK, meaning many sectors will continue to see rising numbers of work visas because of skills shortages”.

Professor Brian Bell, chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee, said some industries could struggle with recruitment because of the new visa rules.

Speaking on Times Radio, he said: “I think we’re going to see quite a lot of what you might describe as middle-skilled jobs that are going to struggle.

“Social care will still be allowed to employ people at lower wages; the big change is workers won’t be able to bring their dependants with them, and that’s a fundamental change.”

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