The UK government has introduced measures it promised would deliver the biggest ever cut in net migration after levels soared to a record high.
Home Secretary James Cleverly announced a five-point plan to curb immigration, which he said was “far too high”.
The changes included hiking the minimum salary needed for skilled overseas workers from £26,200 to £38,700.
Mr Cleverly claimed 300,000 people who were eligible to come to the UK last year would not be able to in future.
The minimum income for family visas has also risen to £38,700.
In a statement to MPs, the home secretary said migration to the UK “needs to come down” and there had been “abuse” of health and care visas for years.
“Enough is enough,” Mr Cleverly said. “Immigration policy must be fair, legal, and sustainable.”
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.
The sharp increase represents a huge political challenge for Mr Sunak and the Conservatives, who have repeatedly promised to reduce net migration since winning power in 2010, and “take back control” of the UK’s borders since the Brexit vote.
The party’s 2019 election manifesto committed to getting the number down, without setting a specific target, while David Cameron once pledged to bring net migration below 100,000 when he was prime minister.
Immigration is shaping up to be a key issue ahead of the next general election, which is expected in 2024.
With Labour leading in opinion polls, Mr Sunak has vowed to “do what is necessary” to bring down net migration.
Writing in the Sun newspaper, the prime minister wrote: “If you can’t contribute to the UK, you are not coming to the UK.
“Our plan will deliver the biggest-ever cut in net migration and curb abuse.”
On top of the new salary requirements, the government said it would:
The home secretary told MPs the changes would take effect in the spring next year.
“In total, this package, plus our reduction in students dependants, will mean around 300,000 fewer people will come in future years than have come to the UK last year,” Mr Cleverly told MPs.
The figure of 300,000 is an estimate, based on internal Home Office calculations.
The Home Office believes the previously announced ban on most overseas students bringing dependents with them will account for almost half of the overall reduction.
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”.
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said the “cruel plans spell total disaster for the NHS and social care”.
“Migrant workers were encouraged to come here because both sectors are critically short of staff. Hospitals and care homes simply couldn’t function without them,” she said.
The plans were welcomed by some Conservative MPs, with former cabinet minister Simon Clarke calling the changes “serious” and “credible” steps.
But Mr Cleverly’s predecessor as home secretary, Suella Braverman, was less impressed.
She said the package was “too late and the government can go further” on salary requirements and “shortening the graduate route”.
Mrs Braverman claimed she had put forward similar proposals six times when she was home secretary “but the delay has reduced their impact”.
She has lambasted the government’s record on immigration since she was sacked as home secretary by Mr Sunak last month.
The latest statistics show the challenge ministers will face in reducing migration into the health sector, which has come to rely heavily on hiring workers from abroad.
The government said in the year ending September 2023, 101,000 visas were issued to care workers.
An estimated 120,000 visas were granted to the family dependants of those care workers, the government said.
The care sector is facing staffing shortages and providers have resisted curbs on their ability to hire foreign workers.
The government’s migration advisers have previously said “persistent underfunding” of local councils, which funds most adult social care, is the most important factor in the staffing crisis.
Mr Cleverly acknowledged some care workers might be deterred from coming to the UK because they would not be able to bring families under the new rules.
But he said he believed there would still be care workers who would be willing to work in the UK.
Dr Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, said the decision to raise the family income threshold to £38,700 was “the biggest surprise of the day”.
The government’s changes to the minimum income for family visas mean that people may be blocked from bringing their relatives to stay in the UK under certain circumstances.
“Family migration makes up a small share of the total, but those who are affected by it can be affected very significantly,” Dr Sumption said.
“The largest impacts will fall on lower-income British citizens, and particularly women and younger people who tend to earn lower wages.”