Right-wing Tories call for cut in foreign healthcare workers in bid to ‘save face’ on immigration

The group, which includes Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson, said the party needs to ‘save face’ and deliver on a manifesto pledge to reduce migration

Archie Mitchell
Monday 03 July 2023 12:54 BST
Related: Rishi Sunak sets out three-point-plan for NHS workforce

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A group of Tory MPs is piling pressure on Rishi Sunak to reduce immigration to the UK - including a huge cut to the number of health and social care workers.

The so-called New Conservatives want the prime minister to cut net migration from 606,000 last year to below 226,000 by the next election. The group, which includes Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson, said the party needs to “save face”, having promised a reduction in the net migration figure at the last general election.

To do so, the New Conservatives have called for Mr Sunak to close a scheme which makes “care workers” and “senior care workers” eligible for Visas, despite the sector grappling with 165,000 unfilled vacancies in the last year.

Currently, health and social care staff are eligible to come and work in the UK under the Health and Care Worker visa.

Backbench MP Miriam Cates, co-chair of the group, said closing the scheme would reduce the number of care workers coming to Britain by “about 100,000”.

She told the BBC it was a “temporary scheme” brought in during the pandemic and curbing the supply of foreign workers was needed “to make care work an attractive career for British people”.

“We are not going to make it an attractive career, we are not going to raise wages, if there is this route for employers to bring in people from abroad,” Ms Cates said.

Miriam Cates, Conservative MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, said fewer care workers were needed to ‘make it an attractive career’ for British people
Miriam Cates, Conservative MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, said fewer care workers were needed to ‘make it an attractive career’ for British people (PA Media)

The New Conservatives, made up of 25 Tory MPs elected since the Brexit referendum, said “swift action” is needed for the Conservatives to “keep our word” on immigration.

There is limited time in which to meet our promises,” a report released on Monday warns.

Plans to curb the number of health and social care workers eligible for visas are part of a 12-point programme designed to bring down net migration.

The group is also calling for a cap of 20,000 on the number of refugees for resettlement and for student visas to be “reserved for the brightest” by making poor-performing universities ineligible.

In making the call, the report argues that immigration policy “should not be used to prop up the finances of underperforming universities”.

The report is being launched on Monday by Mr Anderson and other Tory MPs.

Among the more eyebrow-raising suggestions in the report were:

  • Ending of temporary visa schemes for overseas health and social care workers. This would cut the number of carers in the UK by around 100,000, at a time when the sector is already grappling with 165,000 vacancies. 
  • Closing the route for graduate students to remain in the UK. Students can currently stay in the UK for up to two years after graduating, and critics have warned reducing the limit would undermine the competitiveness of British universities.
  • Excluding “the poorest performing” universities from being eligible for student visas. Critics have warned moves to limit the number of lucrative international students could force some universities into bankruptcy. 
  • Labour is to blame and would make matters worse. The report claims Sir Keir Starmer cannot be trusted on immigration because he once wrote critically of the “racist undercurrent permeating immigration law” and has voted against the government’s immigration policies. But it goes on to accept that under the Conservatives, immigration has “ballooned in recent years”, which “stands in direct contradiction to the Conservative Party pledge made in 2019 to reduce migration”.

Downing Street rejected the New Conservatives’ demands, with a spokesman for the prime minister claiming the government is currently “striking the right balance” on immigration.

The spokesman said removing care workers from the shortage of occupation list was “not being considered”, citing the “significant demand in the care sector for staff”.

Mr Sunak is also not planning to scrap the ability of overseas graduates to stay in the UK after finishing their degrees, his spokesman confirmed.

And Downing Street refused to say whether Mr Sunak was frustrated that his deputy party chairman Mr Anderson was backing the group’s calls, instead acknowledging the “different views” held by the pair.

The report said: “In 2019, we won our biggest majority in 30 years. One of the key promises that helped deliver that majority was that there would be ‘fewer lower-skilled migrants and overall numbers will come down’.

“It is time for us to keep our word on reducing immigration and regain the trust of the British people.”

It is the latest sign of backbench pressure on the prime minister to curb immigration ahead of the next general election, expected before January 2025.

The Government earlier this year announced plans to prevent some overseas students bringing dependents to the UK.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been outspoken about her desire to bring immigration numbers down, but other members of Mr Sunak’s Cabinet are believed to be more relaxed about the issue.

Mr Hunt played down any suggestion that the report represented a challenge to the Prime Minister, telling BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “This is a constructive document. We’ve finally got back control of our immigration system.

“We’ve ended EU free movement. I think it’s healthy to have a level of debate within the parliamentary party about the future of our immigration policy and we’re fully supportive of the Prime Minister.”

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