Immigration Update

– in the House of Commons at 12:38 pm on 1 May 2024.

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Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery) 12:38, 1 May 2024

With permission, I would like to make a statement on immigration.

The Government are committed to reducing immigration—both legal and illegal—into the United Kingdom. Legal immigration has risen in recent years in part because we have extended the hand of friendship to people fleeing conflict and persecution in Ukraine, Hong Kong and Afghanistan. That was the right thing to do. But another factor has been the numbers of overseas students and workers and their dependants rising to unsustainable levels. The steps that the Secretary of State for the Home Department, my right hon. Friend James Cleverly announced last year to cut net migration will mean that around 300,000 people who would have been eligible to come to the UK will now not be.

We have restricted most students from bringing dependent family members, increased the salary that most skilled worker migrants need to earn in order to obtain a visa by nearly 50% to £38,700, stopped overseas care workers bringing dependent family members with them, raised the minimum income for family visas to ensure that people are supported financially, and scrapped the 20% going rate salary discount for shortage occupations and replaced the shortage occupation list with a new immigration salary discount list. The latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics show that net migration in the year to June 2023 was 672,000, 73,000 lower than it was six months earlier. The figures are provisional and we need to go further, but these are encouraging signs.

The latest statistics show that the numbers applying for skilled worker, health and care and study visas in the first three months of 2024 were down by 24% on the same period last year. We removed, from 1 January, the right of students starting courses—other than those on postgraduate research programmes and Government-funded scholarships—to bring dependants to the UK via the student visa route. The number of applications for student dependant visas has fallen by 80% since our changes came into force. From 11 March 2024, we have stopped overseas care workers bringing family dependants here, and have required social care firms in England to be registered with the Care Quality Commission to sponsor visas. In the year ending September 2023, an estimated 120,000 dependants came here via that route. In the first three months of 2024, the number of applications for health and care visas was down by 28%—and this is just the start; most of our changes have only just come into force.

Meanwhile, we remain committed to stopping the boats. Following Royal Assent for the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024 and the ratification of our treaty with Rwanda, we can operationalise our plan to relocate illegal migrants to Rwanda. Rwanda is a safe country that has repeatedly shown its ability to offer asylum seekers a chance to build new and prosperous lives. It has a strong and successful track record of resettling people, hosting more than 135,000 refugees, and it stands ready to accept thousands more who want to rebuild their lives and who cannot stay in the UK. Once flights begin, we will have added another vital deterrent to crack down on the people-smuggling gangs who treat human beings as cargo. The first illegal migrants set to be removed to Rwanda have now been detained, following a series of nationwide operations this week. Operational teams within the Home Office have been working apace to detain, safely and swiftly, individuals who are in scope for relocation to Rwanda, with more activity due to be carried out in the coming weeks. This action is a key part of the plan to deliver flights to Rwanda in the next few weeks.

We have made solid progress in stopping the boats, although we need to finish the job. The number of small boat arrivals fell by more than a third in 2023, and our work with international partners prevented more than 26,000 crossings last year as well as helping to dismantle 82 organised crime groups since July 2020. Our new agreement with Albania has cut Albanian small boat arrivals by more than 90%, and we recently signed a groundbreaking deal with Frontex—the European Border and Coast Guard Agency—which marked another crucial step in the securing of our borders. An initial cohort in the thousands of suitable cases for removal to Rwanda has been identified and placed on immigration bail, with strict reporting conditions. We have a range of measures in place to ensure that we remain in contact with individuals, including both face-to-face and digital reporting, and Immigration Enforcement has a range of powers to trace and locate any individuals who abscond, as well as a dedicated team of tracing officers who work with the police, other Government agencies and commercial companies to help trace individuals and bring them back into contact. It would, of course, be inappropriate for me to comment further on operational activity.

Immigration has enriched this country beyond measure, but it needs to be sustainable and it needs to be fair. Legal immigration should be focused on helping those in genuine need, and on ensuring that our economy has the skills that it needs in order to flourish. It is simply not right for those who can afford to pay gangsters to jump ahead of those who would play by the rules, and whose need is greater. No one needs to flee to the UK from a safe country such as France. Both illegal immigration and unsustainable legal migration place intolerable burdens on communities, and over time they will undermine support for immigration in general, which would be a tragedy. That is why this Government have a plan, which we are putting into action. There is further to go, but we are seeing its positive impact already. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement, but I have to say that this really is getting quite difficult to watch. Not for the first time, the Minister has come to the Dispatch Box desperately fishing for compliments, when it is his Government, his Home Secretary and his Prime Minister who are the cause of the catastrophic state of both the work-based migration and asylum systems. This is their bin fire—their chaos—yet they expect praise each time they half-heartedly attempt to throw a single teacup of water towards the flames.

Net migration has trebled since 2019 to a barely comprehensible 745,000. Under this Government, the number of people crossing in small boats has spiralled from a few hundred in 2018 to tens of thousands every year. It was toe-curlingly embarrassing to watch the Minister claim that he has made “solid progress” on stopping the boats, when this year the number of crossers is at the highest level on record—more than 7,000 between January and April.

It was excruciatingly painful to watch the Home Secretary boast on social media about removing people with no right to be here, when the removal of failed asylum seekers has collapsed by 44% under this Government since 2010, when the removal of foreign criminals has plummeted by 27%, and when he has completely lost track of the 3,500 asylum seekers he claims have been identified for deportation to Rwanda. It is also painful to hear Government figures bragging in the media that their Rwanda policy is somehow a success because a single person, who did not even cross the channel on a small boat, has chosen to fly to Rwanda voluntarily, with thousands of pounds of Government money stuffed into his pocket by the Home Secretary. This is not a policy; it is a headline-chasing gimmick, a fiasco and a farce.

Labour has been absolutely clear that we reject the £500 million Rwanda scheme, based on its unaffordability and unworkability. It will cover only 1% of small-boat asylum seekers, and the Government have no plan for the other 99%. We will repurpose that money to smash the criminal smuggler gangs with our new cross-border police unit and a security partnership with Europol. Crucially, our new returns and enforcement unit will ensure that more flights take off to other countries, which will remove foreign criminals, failed asylum seekers and visa overstayers so that we can restore some control and integrity to our asylum system in a way that is firm, fair and well managed. We will also end the use of 250 asylum hotels and other inappropriate accommodation for asylum seekers, which is costing the British taxpayer millions of pounds every single day.

It is painful to hear the Minister bragging today about the reduction in the number of health and social care visas awarded as a way of bringing down net migration—first, because it is based on such a small data sample; secondly, because this is only one sector of the economy; and, thirdly, because the Minister seems to care not one iota what the reduction in workers will mean for our elderly parents. Where is the impact assessment, and where is the plan to recruit local talent?

Can the Minister explain why net migration has trebled since his party pledged during the 2019 general election to lower it? Will he admit that the huge surge in work-based migration over recent years is evidence of this Government’s total failure to deliver on domestic skills and training? Labour pushed the Government into scrapping the unfair 20% wage discount for jobs on the shortage occupation list, which allowed companies to undercut British workers by hiring overseas. Can he explain why it took so long for his party to steal our policy?

On asylum, Home Office sources have told The Times that only 400 to 700 detention spaces are reserved for migrants who are due for deportation to Rwanda. Can the Minister confirm that this equates to less than 1% of the current asylum backlog in the UK? The Prime Minister promised to detain everyone who has crossed the channel on a small boat—over 30,000 last year. Given that we have only 2,200 detention spaces, what will happen to the remaining 28,000?

The Government’s immigration and asylum policies have failed. We need to put the grown-ups back in charge so that we can fix this broken system and once again give our country an asylum and immigration system that it can be proud of.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

What a quite extraordinary response! The fact is that this is a Government who have a credible plan to bring net migration down by 300,000, and all those measures are now in flight. As I have been able to set out for the House, it is beginning to deliver the results we said it would deliver.

I will take no lectures from the shadow Front Bench about the issue of domestic employment. I was one of the Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions that was proud to bring forward the back to work plan and the comprehensive reforms of the welfare system that we are taking forward as a Government. We are also seeing enormous cross-Government join-up to support more domestic workers into those roles. That is the right thing to do: to support people in this country to take on those roles and fill those vacancies. And let us not forget the record of every single Labour Government: without fail, they leave unemployment higher at the time of leaving office than it was at the start. Under this Government, we have seen record low unemployment benefiting communities across the country.

We have begun the process of delivering the measures in relation to legal migration, and we are also delivering when it comes to illegal migration. We have a plan. We are now getting on and closing hotels—150 asylum hotels have been closed. That is a positive thing. It is the right thing to do to make sure that we accommodate people in appropriate accommodation, but get away from the model of providing hotel accommodation for people. What is Labour’s plan on that? We have seen massive gains when it comes to asylum decision making and productivity around those processes. What is Labour’s policy on that? We have seen crossings down by over a third last year compared with the year before. We have seen Albanian arrivals falling by 90%. Again, what is Labour’s offering to achieve likewise? There isn’t one.

We will continue to sustain the progress that we have made, and we know from everything that has been said in recent days that the Rwanda policy is beginning to have the desired effect: the deterrent is clear. When it comes to the hon. Gentleman’s meagre offering, I would just say that we have already doubled funding for the National Crime Agency for organised immigration crime work, and we already have approximately 5,000 officials working on these matters within migration and borders. That is all that Labour Members are offering; it virtually resembles a blank sheet of paper. The truth is that they offer no deterrent. They have nowhere to send people. They have no plan. They have no solutions. They try to bluff that they do, but they are kidding nobody. They are terrified that our plan is going to work. They are terrified that they will have to scrap it, and they are terrified that they have no alternative. Only we have a plan. It is delivering results and we will see it through.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

Again, no hint of a plan for how we deal with failed asylum seekers from countries to which they cannot be returned without the Rwanda scheme. I am pleased with the progress that the Minister has made on reducing net migration, but I am worried about the figures that came out yesterday. Of the 5,700 migrants who have been identified for removal, only 2,145 can be located. This reflects the evidence from the second permanent secretary to the Home Affairs Committee earlier in the year, when some 17,000 failed asylum seekers who should have been removed could not be located. Where are these people, and what is the Department doing about tracking them down and making sure that they can be removed, as needs to happen as swiftly as possible?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

My hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot go into the granularity of the operational work that is ongoing to ensure that we can deliver on this policy, but I can say that an initial cohort of suitable cases of around 2,000 people has been identified for removal, and they have been placed on immigration bail with strict reporting conditions.

For those outside that group, there is still a wide range of tools to maintain contact with them. That includes, as I said earlier, face-to-face and digital reporting, and many individuals also reside within Home Office accommodation. The Minister for Countering Illegal Migration, my right hon. and learned Friend Michael Tomlinson leads on this work and he is confident of the whereabouts, once the decision to detain is made, and this is just one of the cohorts of people who may be eligible for removal to Rwanda. The policy is clear and we are getting on and operationalising it. That includes detaining people for the purposes of relocation.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

It is hard to know where to start with this complete and utter drivel. The Minister comes here today proud of this tawdry, pathetic, self-defeating piece of fascist nonsense—[Interruption.] The Tories—[Interruption.] They do not like it, but it is true and I will explain to them why. The Home Office has put out—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, they do not like the truth. The Home Office has issued a promo video this morning of people being detained, and it absolutely turns my stomach. This is a Government who glorify their state-sponsored people trafficking plans as they cuff people and take them out of their beds to be sent to another country against their will. It is sickening.

These plans are damaging to our society, to our economy, to the people who need care and to the people who want to love, live and study here. Universities are up in arms about the cuts to student numbers. It makes absolutely no sense. The draft rules that the Government have issued on adults at risk in immigration detention were released this week, but instead of taking action on the serious recommendations of the Brook House inquiry, the Home Office is instead doubling down on its policy of indefinite detention. And Labour Members are going along with all of this. Shame on them.

Far from what the Minister said, small boat arrivals are up this year. Rwanda is no deterrent because none of their other policies has proved a deterrent. The thousands of people they want to send there have disappeared, never to be seen again, and who can really blame them, if they are going to be plucked from their beds and taken away by Ministers and sent to countries against their will? Indeed, who can blame them? The risk is that these people will end up being exploited because they have gone into hiding. They will be exploited, they will be trafficked and they will be vulnerable. Why is the Minister not acknowledging the impact that this policy will have on vulnerable people?

Finally, if it is indeed the case that the person the Government sent to Rwanda has not been granted refugee status in this country, why are they not being returned to their country of origin? Is it perhaps that that country is actually unsafe? If that is true, why were they not given refugee status here in the first place?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

It is a perfectly respectable position to want to protect our borders. It is right and proper to want to ensure that we have a fair and balanced system of legal migration that is sustainable. I make no apology whatsoever—and nor will this Government or any of the Ministers in the Home Office—for placing front and centre the determination to protect people’s lives. We have seen too many lives lost in the channel at the hands of evil criminal gangs with no regard whatsoever for human life who take people’s money, exploit them and send them out to sea in unseaworthy vessels. Candidly, beyond that, I am not going to edify the hon. Lady’s contribution with anything further.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

I very much welcome the fact that the Minister is able to come to this House with the first encouraging signs of lower migration numbers, which will be welcomed widely outside this House—including, I suspect, in Scotland. Does he agree that the lesson we should draw from this is that taking practical, detailed measures to crack down on the exploitation of certain types of visa routes is the way to make progress on bringing immigration numbers down, rather than the windy rhetoric we heard from the Opposition spokesman?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

My right hon. Friend is a distinguished former Home Office Minister who had responsibilities in the immigration space, and I would argue that a lot of the measures that we have announced, and that are now all in flight, build on the earlier efforts of colleagues such as him. He is absolutely right that the policies are balanced and measured and that they deliver on the legitimate aim of wanting to reduce inflows of legal migration into our country, to ensure fairness, to ensure that the model is sustainable and to ensure that people who come here are able to be properly supported. I think that that is something that the British people strongly support, and I entirely share his sentiments.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

The National Audit Office estimates that it will cost £11,000 per person to fly people to Rwanda. Can the Minister tell the House which airline he will use to transport people to Rwanda? What is his estimate of the number of people who will be sent to Rwanda in the first three months of operating the policy?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

The Chairman of the Select Committee, for whom I have enormous respect and admiration, will understand why I am not going to get into operationally or commercially sensitive matters on the Floor of the House. We have consistently seen great efforts to thwart this policy, in a whole host of senses, over the course of weeks, months and years. We will not be thwarted. We have made commitments, and we will get on with delivering this policy. There is a plan and, as the Prime Minister has said, we will send a flight within the next 10 to 12 weeks. That is where our focus lies, and it would be entirely inappropriate to share the logistics on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

As mass migration has been shown to depress GDP per capita, and as it is clear that it is easier to control the much higher number of legal migrants, may I encourage the Government to return to their promise of having migration in the tens of thousands?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

Again, I am not going to set out today what the Government’s future ambitions may be. What I am able to say is that we have a package of measures that is delivering a reduction of 300,000 in net migration, spanning various different routes. I think it is a very credible offer to meet the ambition of the British people to bring those numbers down, not least for the reason that my right hon. Friend touches on: legal migration to this country needs to be sustainable. When we consider, for example, that we saw 100,000 care workers come with 120,000 dependants, I do not think that any fair-minded person would, by any objective yardstick, think that that was a reasonable position. That is why we are bringing it to an end, and I am pleased that the measures we have introduced are delivering results.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

The Times reports this morning that the number of visas granted for care workers in March this year was 83% down on the figure for March 2023. Does the Minister expect that reduction to continue? If he does, who will do the work that those carers would have done, and what impact does he think it might have on the national health service?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

We have committed to monthly reporting on the net migration measures we have introduced to allow Parliament and others to take a view on our progress. There are extensive efforts across Government to employ more people from our domestic labour force. I wish Liberal Democrat Members were as enthusiastic as I am about the back to work plan and our work on recruitment and retention. We are taking forward those credible efforts to try to support more people in this country into these roles. We are also working intensively to improve the processes for rematching individuals who are already here on health and social care visas. These are the right steps to take, and I will not pre-empt what the figures might look like in the coming months. The right hon. Gentleman will be able to look at them in the same way as everybody else.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

It is interesting to hear the Minister’s comments and to see the impact of things that, I think it is safe to say, he and I would have wanted to do slightly earlier, such as abolishing the 20% discount on the SOL. Does he agree that the core problem is that, all too often, people see immigration as an alternative to policies that affect the domestic labour market, rather than as something that supports those policies? Sectors and businesses that will be very keen to have a meeting with him in his new role were not quite so keen to meet him when he was trying to promote the Disability Confident scheme as Minister for Disabled People. What are the Government’s plans to make sure that future migration policy clearly links up with our wider policy for the UK labour market, and to make sure that it is not open to lobbying to try to avoid it?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

My hon. Friend speaks with real authority and experience on this issue. I recall our conversations in our previous ministerial roles, and he is absolutely right that immigration ought not to be the first port of call in meeting our skills needs and filling vacancies. That is why the Government have a co-ordinated plan, with our immigration policies, our back to work plan, our health and disability benefit reforms, and our reforms in a host of other areas. That should be our focus. I would argue that there is a strong moral case that investing in our domestic labour force to get people into vacancies is the right thing to do. Where there needs to be a practical approach to migration, we should look at it, but it most definitely should not be the first port of call.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

I welcome the comments on legal migration, which is very important to many sectors in Northern Ireland.

On the important and perplexing issue of illegal migration, can the Minister say something about what the Irish Republic’s Government said this week about pushing back returnees to Northern Ireland? Can he confirm that the Irish Justice Minister made up the fact that 80% of the problem stems from Northern Ireland? Will he say something about the Republic of Ireland’s courts claiming that the United Kingdom is an unsafe destination to return people to in the first instance? Will he please assure me that Northern Ireland will not become a dumping ground for the right-wing problems being faced across the EU?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

As the Prime Minister has rightly said, including at Prime Minister’s questions, we are not going to accept returns from the EU via Ireland when the EU does not accept returns to France, from where illegal migrants are coming to the United Kingdom. The UK Government’s position is clear. We have regular and ongoing work on the abuse of the common travel area, which is right and proper. We also stand by our obligations under the Good Friday agreement. I would argue that the Prime Minister has made our position very clear.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

Chelmsford is a very welcoming community. We have welcomed Ukrainian refugees, the families of those brave Afghans who stood beside our soldiers, and the Hong Kong Chinese. We have amazing domestic abuse services, and we have welcomed women and their families from all over London and the south-east who are fleeing violent men. We have built thousands of new homes and, because the Labour Mayor of London has so spectacularly failed to build new homes, we have welcomed social housing tenants from all across London, but this cannot go on. We have 400 families who are unable to find a home in temporary accommodation. We have to control migration. I am delighted that the Minister is closing 100 hotels. Will he please close the Atlantic hotel and the Legg Street flats in Chelmsford? Chelmsford has welcomed so many, and we cannot home everyone.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I am very mindful that my right hon. Friend’s community in Chelmsford has been incredibly generous. The UK Government have been delivering work in conjunction with communities to provide sanctuary for those fleeing the most dreadful conflicts around the world, including in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria, as well as those fleeing the situation in Hong Kong. She is also right to touch on the abuse of routes, which is precisely why we are introducing greater Care Quality Commission oversight and accreditation of the health and social care visa system.

I hear my right hon. Friend’s representations on accommodation, on which we have had conversations. Reducing inflow is critical to allowing us to get on with closing hotels across the country, and to getting the accommodation picture into a more manageable state. It is clear that only this Government have a credible plan to reduce the inflow of people coming here illegally via small boats across the channel. We will see that through to make sure that we can get on with closing more hotels.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

As the policy is rolled out, it is seen to be the brutal and inhumane financial fiasco that it is. Asylum seekers were detained as they turned up for their normal monthly reporting yesterday, causing immense distress. A number of them will inevitably be sent to the detention centres in my constituency. We have experience of what happens when people are distressed in this way. We have seen suicides, self-harm and mental breakdowns. Can I have an assurance from the Minister that the charities that support asylum seekers in detention, including Care4Calais, will have direct access to these detained individuals, and that these individuals will have access to legal advice?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

There are, of course, established processes whereby people can access the support that is appropriate in the circumstances. I have a principled disagreement with the right hon. Gentleman on this point about detention, and I recognise that those in the Scottish National party do not support detention either for the purposes of removal. However, where people are here who have no right to be here, I think it is appropriate that they are detained for the purposes of removal. That is done entirely properly, in accordance with the law, with the proper safeguards around it. As ever, that will continue to be the case during the ongoing work as part of the Rwanda relocations.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

I welcome the statement and, in particular, the news that in some categories at least immigration is finally beginning to fall. On asylum specifically, the Irish Foreign Minister and former Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, complained bitterly just a few days ago that large numbers of asylum seekers were moving from Northern Ireland into the Irish Republic. Sky News reported yesterday that the Irish Government are seriously contemplating moving police officers to the border to interdict that flow. In effect, that would create a hard border on the island of Ireland. Some of us were lectured for years, including by today’s Opposition spokesman, that the Irish Government would never contemplate that in any circumstances, so the stench of hypocrisy is strong. Will the Minister assure me that we will never allow the Republic to return those people to Northern Ireland unless and until we can remove illegal cross-channel migrants to France? As for the contemptible remarks of the SNP spokesman, let me say that at least the UK has a Government, which is more than we can say for Scotland this week.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

My right hon. Friend knows that this Government are resolutely opposed to a hard border on the island of Ireland. I understand that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has requested an urgent meeting with the Irish Government to seek assurances that there will be no adverse implications for the smooth operation of either the common travel area or the Good Friday agreement. That is an important meeting and he is right to seek it. I reiterate that we would welcome a returns agreement with the EU. We think it is right that we explore those opportunities and we will continue to pursue that.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

When I was first elected to this House, we often debated safe and legal routes, but we do not hear much about that any more. Many of my constituents are writing to me because they want a family reunion scheme for their relatives in Gaza. I recently co-authored a report with Helena Kennedy recommending that the UK Government have a humanitarian visa for women in Afghanistan and Iraq. Will the Minister therefore tell me whether the Government have any plans to announce any safe and legal routes before the next general election?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I am sure the hon. and learned Lady has followed the position closely. Through the Illegal Migration Act 2023, we made a commitment, which was reflected in the legislation, to publish the cap and the statutory instrument that sits alongside it, which will support our efforts to provide resettlement opportunities in this country for people in the years ahead. That work is on track and we will deliver on that commitment, and I will be able to say more in due course.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Chair, Health and Social Care Committee, Chair, Health and Social Care Committee

In December, Care England appeared before my Select Committee and told us that the care sector had been “blindsided” by the change to ban overseas care workers from bringing dependants to the UK. The Government’s impact assessment said that the policy would not affect the number of those applying to come here and help look after our constituents, yet today’s figures show that care worker applications have decreased by more than half. We all want to see a care sector sustained by domestic labour—why wouldn’t we? However, with 152,000 vacancies to the end of March this year, is that decrease the intention or the unintended consequence of these changes?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

As I have consistently described, the situation on dependants has been unsustainable. As I said in answer to an earlier question, we saw 120,000 dependants coming with 100,000 care workers. That position could not realistically continue to be sustained. We are in the very early stages of the delivery of these measures; the health and social care changes have only just come into force. My hon. Friend will want to satisfy himself on this having looked at the figures across a number of months, but I reiterate that there are huge opportunities associated with domestic recruitment and enormous work is going on in government with a focus on retention. That is the right way to deal with these challenges, but a health and social care visa route is still available for people. It is not unreasonable to think that in future individuals without dependants will come—they will still be able to come—and that is entirely appropriate.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

When the Minister gave a statement to the House, he said that the Government had extended the hand of friendship to those fleeing persecution and oppression. Is he aware that a considerable number of people who are in Calais, or who have crossed the channel and tried to get to this country, are victims of human rights abuse, environmental disaster and wars, some of which this country has been involved in, such as in Afghanistan? His answer is to demonise them and to try to force them to go to Rwanda. Should he not think for a moment of a sense of humanity about people in a desperate situation, through no fault of their own, looking for a place of safety in a country that was involved in the war in Afghanistan in the first place?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I am exceptionally proud of the work that this country, supported by the Home Office and its teams, has done as part of the enormous resettlement efforts we have taken forward in recent years. Only last week, I had the real privilege to spend some time with a team who had been supporting new Afghan arrivals through the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. I was incredibly moved by that work. Those individuals had come through a safe and legal route, and we will continue to see those commitments through. The UK has played its part and it will continue to do so. But what is not right, in any sense, is to give the impression that anybody ought to be getting in a small boat, having paid an evil criminal gang to do so, and coming across the channel and risking their life. We saw a young girl lose her life only last week. Nobody needs to leave those French shores in order to find safety. We do have safe and legal routes, and it is right that people come through those.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Fifteen months after the Government announced that they were taking over the whole of RAF Scampton and putting 2,000 migrants there, not a single one has arrived. We have fought the Home Office to a complete standstill and everything we have said has been proved correct; the costs are rising exponentially from £5 million to £27 million, and the buildings are decaying, as is the runway. The Labour party has now joined me in my early-day motion against this proposal. We have involved the Levelling Up Secretary, who is now imposing all sorts of conditions on the Home Office. Will the excellent, first-class Minister before us today now ensure that his attention is laser-focused on working with us and doing what we have argued for from the beginning: releasing the entire site to Scampton Holdings so that we can get the biggest and best levelling up we have ever had on a former RAF base?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

My right hon. Friend is a tireless campaigner for his constituents. He knows that I am exceptionally sympathetic to trying to deliver this regeneration project for Lincolnshire. I appreciate entirely the enormous economic benefit and opportunity that it presents for people in the Scampton area, from a perspective of not only amenities but jobs. We are working intensively with him and with the local authority to move this forward. We do of course need to realise our accommodation ambitions for that site in the short term, but I also want to find and agree a way forward that means that those regeneration ambitions can also be realised as quickly as possible.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

We now know that it is the Government’s intention to pay board and lodging for five years for anyone voluntarily removed to Rwanda. That commitment will fall heavily on the next Government, if this one are even successful in getting anyone to Rwanda. So how much is this nonsense going to cost?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

It is fair to say that if we were to adopt the approach of the Labour Front Benchers, which the hon. Gentleman no doubt subscribes to, we would continue to have uncontrolled immigration to our country via the channel. He offers no alternative solution to the one that the Government are taking forward. That is an unsustainable position. I am confident that the Rwanda policy will help to bring to an end the channel crossings, put the evil criminal gangs out of business and get the issue under control. That has to be right. What is clearly unacceptable is to parade around with no credible policy alternative and just pretend that everything is going to be okay.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

It is very encouraging to hear the news about the progress on tackling both legal and illegal migration, and particularly about the operationalisation of the Rwanda policy. I pushed on a number of occasions for further schemes with other third countries, because we need to see that deterrent, but I was told that we were waiting for the delivery of the Rwanda scheme. Now that we have delivered the Rwanda scheme through Parliament, will the Minister look again at further schemes with other third countries, so that we can offer the maximum possible deterrent to those trying to come here illegally?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

My hon. Friend is right on the point about deterrents. He has been very supportive of our work that has seen Albanian arrivals fall by 90%. Again, that shows the value that deterrents have. I know the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration has been having conversations with the Vietnamese about the small boat arrivals we have seen from Vietnam. We will continue to work hard to deliver more international co-operation in this space. I also think it is right that the Home Secretary is spending considerable amounts of his time and energy on informing the conversation internationally about what more we can do to tackle these migratory flows. We know that where we led the way in announcing our Rwanda policy, others internationally are seeking to follow.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

Yesterday, my 21-year-old Springburn constituent, Abdullah Salimi, was detained. He was then taken on a 10-hour journey from Scotland to England, I suspect because in Scotland he would get legal aid and he would have legal representation, but down here he will have none. During the 10-hour journey, he was given no water and no food. Is that right? Is that acceptable? What is the reason for that? He had his phone taken off him so he could not contact anybody or tell anybody. Is that right? Is that acceptable? What is the reason for that?

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

I haven’t finished. I emailed the Home Office last night and I went to the Home Office this morning, but officials refused to give me any information. I went with a letter for one of the Minister’s colleagues, but they refused to take the letter. I am Mr Salimi’s MP. I have the right to know what is going on in his life and the right to try to represent him. Why am I being denied that and why is he being denied the rights that the Minister enjoyed at the age of 21?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I am a British citizen who is in this country legally. [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady will allow me to finish the point, it is entirely right and proper that people are detained on a legal basis for the purposes of removal under this policy, but there are always safeguards around that. I will gladly accept the letter from the hon. Lady and ensure it reaches the right destination in the Home Office. We will, in the normal way, look carefully at any concerns she wishes to raise. I recognise that she is entirely opposed to the policy objective we are seeking to advance. There is a principled disagreement there—she thinks I am wrong about this, I think she is wrong—but if she would like to share those specific points with me, I will gladly ensure that she receives a full response.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

The signs of a fall in net migration will be welcomed across Amber Valley. Can I raise my concerns about the situation where a young UK national works abroad for a while and forms a relationship, but is not yet earning enough to sponsor their spouse to live in the UK? Is there more we can do to help in this situation, perhaps by clarifying in the guidance that they can use both their salaries to meet the earnings threshold?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

There has been no change to the way that the various family visa requirements can be met, through savings and the like. We had a good debate last week in Westminster Hall on the important safeguard of article 8 rights. As part of the consideration of any application, all those factors are given proper and due consideration to ensure we get the right decisions on individual cases. We think it is right to introduce these salary changes—they are being increased incrementally and not applied retrospectively—but as I say, there is an important safeguard around article 8 rights.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

We have supported this policy, albeit with some reservations, because we believe it is important to break the criminal gang model and ensure the stability of the United Kingdom. However, I am not convinced today by the Minister’s argument given that we are sending one person to Rwanda with £3,000 in their pocket and we are still looking for half the people who are meant to be sent there.

This week, the Irish Government, in an attempt to divert attention from their own domestic failures on housing and immigration, have started a row about immigrants coming from the United Kingdom into the Irish Republic and have refused to publish the deal—it is the usual Brit-bashing exercise that they engage in. The Minister has been asked twice today but has not given an answer, so will he tell us what specific measures he will put in place to ensure that the cynical Irish Government do not simply bus immigrants to the border and dump them in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

The situation he describes would not be appropriate. That is a matter for the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration, who leads on that work within the Home Office. We have been clear that if there is a desire for a returns deal, that needs to be done with the EU in the way the British people would rightly expect.

On the right hon. Member’s earlier point about Rwanda, the voluntary return we saw is part of an established approach to voluntary returns that was in place even when the last Labour Government were in office. We are now getting on and delivering a wider scheme. The Prime Minister has been clear that we will operationalise that over the course of the next 10 to 12 weeks. We are determined to send individuals with no right to be here to Rwanda and to put out of business the evil criminal gangs responsible for the misery in the channel.

Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Conservative, Carlisle

I welcome the news about the reduction in the number of legal migrants. Immigration must be set at sustainable levels so that migrants can integrate properly into our country. Does the Minister agree that to fill any skills gap, it is vital that we ensure that we upskill our own people and not become dependent on immigration? Will he confirm that his Department is working with the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure we achieve that?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. There is concerted effort going on across Government, building on the back to work plan. I am playing my part in discussions with colleagues from the Department for Education, the Treasury, the Department for Work and Pensions and a whole host of other Departments, including that of the Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade, my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake, who is in his place. We are going sector by sector looking at what more we can do to support the domestic recruitment of staff in the first instance. That is the right approach to this. It is not right to resort to immigration as the first port of call. My hon. Friend’s support for those efforts and endeavours is appreciated.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Justice)

Labour pushed the Government into scrapping the unfair 20% wage discount on jobs on the shortage occupation list. Will the Minister explain why it took so long for the Government to adopt our policy?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I do not see it like that. Labour’s policy is a blank sheet of paper. This Government’s policy is a credible offering to get on and deliver on legal and illegal migration. The good news is that those efforts are delivering results.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

The Minister has said that the numbers of applications for skilled worker health and care visas and for student visas are down 24%. Astonishingly, he is proud of that. International students bring massive economic benefits to the UK. In my constituency alone, that is worth £83 million per annum. They are also highly mobile. If the graduate route is closed, we lose out economically but, more importantly, our businesses lose skills and the ability to develop and expand. Will the Minister confirm that there are no plans to close the graduate visa route?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

The hon. Member presents the Government’s position in, I would argue, an inaccurate and disingenuous light. The fact is that we want to see a balanced approach to migration. The position around dependants was not sustainable. She will also recognise that there is a proper process, which is ongoing, in relation to the graduate route. The Migration Advisory Committee is looking at that route, looking at the data and taking representations and will report in a proper way to the Department. Ministers will then take decisions around those recommendations, taking full account of the facts and having proper conversations within Government about the right way forward, but it is entirely right that we wait for the Migration Advisory Committee’s findings.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Commons Business)

Can the Minister explain what will happen to the more than 150,000 people whom the Refugee Council estimates cannot be removed to Rwanda or returned to their home country since the introduction of the Illegal Migration Act 2023? Does he accept that those people, stuck in limbo, are likely to be reliant on Home Office support or go underground?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I will not get into the operational specifics of the work that is ongoing to operationalise the Rwanda policy. We are clear that there is a basis on which we can send people to Rwanda for the purposes of relocation, with the ultimate objective of putting out of business the evil criminal gangs who are responsible for bringing people here, but we work cohort by cohort and we take appropriate decisions for individuals according to the circumstances that are relevant in each specific case.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his answers to all the questions today. Clearly, the Government have a policy that they are trying to implement, and I think they need some support from Members across the Chamber to make that happen. The Home Office has stated that a crackdown on visas has led to an 80% fall in skilled worker visas. Does the Minister agree that our fishing sector relies on the provision of skilled workers? What steps can be taken to ensure that the fisheries do not suffer as a result of what the Minister has said today?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

Historically, the Government have been very generous and allowed the fishing and seafood processing sectors to have a privileged position within the immigration system, with quite considerable support. There has been some legitimate and understandable concerns raised around the risks of exploitation and the need to safeguard people properly. I make this offer again having made it previously to the sector: if it has ideas about how we can still uphold those duties to safeguard people and about how the English language requirement can still be met in a way that is conducive to helping the industry, I would welcome those representations and that evidence base.