What a new Prime Minister can do for UK immigration

By Amer Zaman

on August 10, 2022

Read Time: 8 Minutes

To say that the UK has gone on quite the journey in its relationship with immigration over the last six years since the EU referendum would be quite the understatement. Indeed, many of the contradictions inherent in that ever-changing relationship would seem to be clear across various aspects of the ongoing Conservative Party leadership race.

As recently as a few months ago, it might have seemed improbable that the UK’s ruling party would once again be holding a contest to decide on a new leader at this relatively early stage of the current Parliament.

Barely two and a half years after outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered a landslide majority for the Conservatives, the one-time Mayor of London has been ousted from Downing Street. At the time of typing, the list of contenders to take his place has been whittled down to former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, andthe current Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss. But what pledges have these remaining two candidates made on the subject of immigration so far, what is actually likely to end up in their “in” tray, and what are they likely to be able to do for immigration to the UK?

What has Rishi Sunak said about UK immigration policy?

As a candidate for the Conservative Party leadership – and therefore Prime Minister – Rishi Sunak has published a “10-point plan” in The Sunday Telegraph setting out the approach he has said he would take to the UK immigration system.

Mr Sunak’s declarations on the subject so far have largely focused on what he perceives as the failures of an asylum system he has described as chaotic and “broken”.

Among the former Chancellor of the Exchequer’s pledges if he becomes Prime Minister have been a cap on refugee numbers, curbs on the power of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and the withholding of aid money from countries that refuse to take back failed asylum seekers and criminals.

He has also said that he would house illegal migrants in cruise ships, and that he will do “whatever it takes” to make the controversial Rwanda policy work.

These stances have been seen as an attempt to appeal to more right-leaning, Brexit-supporting members of the Conservative Party, which have so far largely thrown their support behind his leadership rival, Liz Truss.

In his article for The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Sunak wrote that the Government had failed to “take back control” of the UK’s borders in line with the pledge by the pro-Brexit Vote Leave campaign in 2016.

He added: “The ECHR cannot inhibit our ability to properly control our borders and we shouldn’t let it. We need to inject a healthy dose of common sense into the system, and that is what my plan does.”

A country seemingly more at ease with immigration – but the next Prime Minister will have plenty in their ‘in’ tray

Much comment has been made on the relative diversity of the ‘roll call’ of candidates for the Conservative leadership in 2022, with six of the 11 hopefuls who initially said they would run being of Black or Asian heritage. Several candidates also made positive reference to their migrant backgrounds in their public communications about their bids for the party leadership.

It is all quite the contrast from the frequently bitter and divisive debates over UK immigration that characterised much of the conversation surrounding the Brexit vote six years ago.

But this is not perhaps a phenomenon that should seem so surprising; there has been evidence of more relaxed attitudes among the UK population towards immigration over recent years. This has included a widespread acceptance of the need for many British businesses to source talent from overseas in order to fill skills gaps and support their growth.

Such positivity does not, however, greatly extend to the health of the UK immigration system itself. The last six years have been seriously busy and often bewildering ones in this regard, marked by controversies or even outright scandals encompassing Windrush and Rwanda, as well as slightly less headline-grabbing, but nonetheless momentous changes to the key UK immigration pathways.

We have seen, for example, the closure of the Investor and Entrepreneur visa routes, along with the launch – or in some cases, rebranding – of such categories as the Innovator, Graduate, Global Talent, High Potential and Seasonal Worker visas.

The last few years, of course, have also seen the implementation of a new points-based immigration system designed for a post-Brexit landscape, even if not all aspects of that landscape are as new and unfamiliar as some might have anticipated. Indeed, in 2021, nearly a million visas were issued to people from other countries seeking to move to the UK to live, work, and/or study; the highest this figure has ever been. Whoever does take the reigns as the UK’s next Prime Minister, then, will have plenty to contend with as far as the country’s much-talked-about immigration system is concerned.

What pledges has Liz Truss made on the UK’s immigration system?

Like her opponent for the Conservative Party leadership, Liz Truss has expressed her support for the notion of deporting some migrants to Rwanda. Indeed, she has suggested that as Prime Minister, she would seek to put in place similar initiatives with other countries.

She has also said that a government led by her will bolster Border Force capacity by 20%, and aim to address illegal migration through the introduction of a UK Bill of Rights. She has also stated that she would refuse to “cower” to the ECHR.

Ms Truss provided particular detail on the likely direction of her government – in the event of her winning the contest – in an interview with the Mail on Sunday.

She said to the newspaper: “The Rwanda policy is the right policy. I’m determined to see it through to full implementation, as well as exploring other countries that we can work on similar partnerships with. It’s the right thing to do.

“I’m also determined to make sure that we have the right level of forces at our border. I’m going to increase the border force to make sure that we have the proper protection in place directly at the border.” In a reference to the legal limbo that the Rwanda policy has found itself in, she reasoned that a British Bill of Rights would be geared towards “giving the UK Government the powers and UK Parliament the sovereignty to be able to deliver the policy in full. That’s very important to me.”

The new Prime Minister may be best advised to continue immigration liberalisation

For all of the sometimes-harsh talk on immigration by the remaining candidates, their publicly stated priorities on the subject might not necessarily correspond strongly with what courses of action they would be best advised to take once they are in Number 10.

Instead, our own specialists in immigration law at Cranbrook Legal would urge Mr Sunak or Ms Truss to build on the liberalisation of the UK immigration system that has already been instigated to some extent by the current Home Secretary, Priti Patel – herself born in London to a Ugandan-Indian family.

In her time in the role, Ms Patel has helped ease the path for skilled migrants from outside the EU who aspire to work in the UK. With firms in many industries still stymied by an inability to find the right staff from the domestic market to fill their vacancies, moves to allow such employers to hire overseas workers more easily will surely be well-received.

Even simply adding more roles to the shortage occupation list could go some way to achieving this. However, there is also another looming question for any new Prime Minister taking a fresh look at UK immigration policy: how to attract greater numbers of genuine entrepreneurs to the UK from overseas, in the wake of the sudden closure of the Investor category in February.

That decision was made by the Home Office for the quite correct reasons of, in the department’s own words at the time, “security concerns, including people acquiring their wealth illegitimately and being associated with wider corruption.”

However, this development – combined with the introduction of the Global Business Mobility routesto replace the Sole Representative visa category –has had the effect of greatly narrowing the options for genuinely entrepreneurial migrants who might wish to relocate to the UK in order to set up and grow their businesses.

The broad idea behind the Global Business Mobility visa – with its five subcategories –has been to provide sponsored pathways for overseas firms interested in establishing a UK presence or transferring staff to the UK for certain business purposes. However, the new system, which was only put in place a few months ago, has been criticised for being overly bureaucratic and complex, which risks compromising the ability of this visa to lure investors and entrepreneurs to the UK.

In the meantime, many such migrants might be interested in an increasingly talked-about alternative option for relocating to the UK; what has been widely referred to as the ‘self-sponsorship visa’.

Technically speaking, the ‘self-sponsorship visa’ is not an official visa route. Instead, the term simply refers to a potential method for entering the UK under the Skilled Worker visa category, whereby a suitably qualified migrant obtains a sponsor licence for their own UK company, and then uses this to sponsor themselves to come and work in the UK.

Are you ready to discuss in greater detail how you could be helped to achieve your goal of moving to and working in the UK via the appropriate immigration route? If so, our friendly and capable immigration solicitors in central London are ready and waiting to hold a free consultation with you to help make clear your options and advise you on the best paths ahead.


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