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What changes does a Labour government promise for business immigration?


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Currently a comfortable 23 points ahead in opinion polls with just under three weeks to the general election, the Labour Party has published its election manifesto.

Sectors of the economy hit by a massive recent hike in salary thresholds for sponsoring skilled workers will be poring over the manifesto for clues as to how a likely Labour government may affect their ability to bring workers into the UK.

The Conservative party manifesto has reiterated its recent immigration-curbing policies and promised to go much, much further, with annual, ever-tightening caps on immigration numbers.

The Liberal Democrats have a fabulously detailed election manifesto when it comes to immigration, including replacing salary thresholds with a “merit-based system” for work visas.

As a party with a constant lead in the polls that they are determined not to jeopardise in any way, the Labour Party manifesto is thinner on details and concrete reassurances when it comes to work immigration. So, below is what we can infer based on what’s there, what’s missing and what the party have recently said.

Reducing net migration

The Labour manifesto’s section on a “fair and properly managed immigration system” appears in the “kickstart economic growth” chapter of the Labour manifesto – perhaps an acknowledgement of immigration’s important role in economic growth.

Though there is not much substance in the manifesto for employers to rely on, the main headline-grabbing promise is a vow to reduce net migration.

The manifesto contains an interesting commitment to “reform the points-based immigration system so that it is fair and properly managed, with appropriate restrictions on visas, and by linking immigration and skills policy” which suggests a wide-ranging review.

There are no reassurances for employers and employees hampered by recent Skilled Worker salary threshold hikes, or indeed for residents whose salaries fall below an increasing minimum income to be joined by a partner/spouse on a family visa. Nor for sectors that can no longer rely on hires enjoying the discounts of the scrapped Shortage Occupation List.

Conspicuously absent from the manifesto are recent press briefings that Labour would ask the Migration Advisory Committee to properly examine April’s arbitrary salary hikes for sponsoring partners/spouses and Skilled Workers. One would hope that these changes which were made with no consultation would be looked at by the committee as part of the Labour Party manifesto promise of “reform of the points-based immigration system.”

Shortage occupations

Despite tough talk of reducing reliance on immigration, the manifesto contains a commitment to empower the Migration Advisory Committee to make informed decisions. This would suggest a return to consultations with stakeholders and evidence-based immigration policy again, rather than recent headline-grabbing policies to reduce legal migration that have been made without consultation. Hopefully, submissions from sectors and stakeholders will be taken into account by the committee if they have the opportunity for a full consultation as has usually been the case.

The committee has been very critical of the government’s decision to remove the Shortage Occupation List at the same time as increasing Skilled Worker salary going rate minimums to the median of an occupation code. There are very few occupations left on the Immigration Salary List (the replacement for the shortage list) as there is no point in most occupations suffering skills shortages appearing on the new list without a 20% discount on the far higher going rates. A Labour Party which has for a long time criticised a discount on the going rate as undercutting local wages is unlikely to bring such a discount back for occupations with chronic skills shortages.

“The days of a sector languishing endlessly on immigration shortage lists with no action to train up workers will come to an end,” the Labour manifesto vows. “Labour will bring joined-up thinking, ensuring that migration to address skills shortages triggers a plan to upskill workers and improve working conditions in the UK.”

It will be interesting to see what promises of “linking immigration and skills policy” and ending “long-term reliance on overseas workers” mean in practice and whether the onus will fall on the state or employers to train more resident workers to fill current skills gaps. Such sentiments have been expressed by many previous governments, but this Labour manifesto proposes a national skills strategy expressly linking immigration with training.

Joined-up industrial strategy

“We will strengthen the Migration Advisory Committee, and establish a framework for joint working with skills bodies across the UK, the Industrial Strategy Council and the Department for Work and Pensions,” the Labour manifesto promises.

Elsewhere in the manifesto it adds: “We will establish Skills England to bring together business, training providers and unions with national and local government to ensure we have the highly trained workforce needed to deliver Labour’s Industrial Strategy. Skills England will formally work with the Migration Advisory Committee to make sure training in England accounts for the overall needs of the labour market.”

All of this suggests immigration and training policies will be part of a long-term industrial strategy. When reviewing the Shortage Occupation List and the Immigration Salary List that replaced it, the committee has in the past suggested opening up the immigration options it may recommend when occupations are in short supply, with recommendations including long term training and skills strategies so that immigration is not a permanent fix. So with a return to the Shortage Occupation List looking unlikely, it will be interesting what other solutions the committee may recommend for sectors left in the lurch by its demise. 

Hopefully the strategy will consider that, according to the CIPD’s 2023 report Migrant workers and skills shortages in the UK, employers that have sponsored migrants are already more likely also to be taking measures to invest in UK workers, while there was no evidence that the loss of the ability to hire migrant workers has incentivised investment in training to fill resulting skills gaps, countering the commonly pushed perception that the solution is a bare choice between the two extremes.

Bad bosses

“Bad bosses” has been a recent refrain for the Labour leader and colleagues who during the election campaign have associated breaching employment regulations with relying on non-resident labour. Associating an erosion of local workers’ rights with immigration is a dangerous populist trope.

Employers who “abuse the visa system” or breach employment law will be barred from hiring workers from abroad, the Labour manifesto warns. This may imply more or tighter enforcement, but current sponsor obligations already include wide-ranging requirements to play their part in ensuring the immigration system is not abused, comply with wider UK law (including employment and equality law) and not behave in a manner that is not conducive to the public good, with employers who breach these facing compliance action.

This then appears not to be a question of policy but of enforcement.  However, over the past few months the Conservative government has already increased civil penalties, dedicated more immigration enforcement staff to more compliance visits on employers with sponsor licences.  During the year to the end of March 2024, Home Office data reports a 90% increase in Skilled Worker licence suspensions and a 20% increase in Skilled Worker licence revocations on the same period a year before.


The real elephant in the room in political debates about the recent spike in immigration (numbers which are reducing without a Labour government having to do anything) is that it has been mainly fuelled by health and care visas. That would make the state the biggest so-called “bad boss” relying on a migrant workforce rather than investing in training and improving pay and conditions for the local workforce.

The manifesto promises for a care sector mechanism to set fair pay, terms and conditions, along with training standards sound like a sensible solution. If Labour also steps in to ameliorate NHS disputes over pay and conditions and increases medical student numbers, this should all make a difference too.

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Ross Kennedy

Ross Kennedy is a Senior Client Manager at Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law, advising corporates and individuals across the range of immigration matters. After leaving the Civil Service, Ross was previously Practice Manager and a senior at two immigration firms of global repute before joining Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law in 2021. Ross has a wealth of experience working with corporate clients of all sizes, from start-ups, SMEs and charitable or religious organisations to large multinational companies. His email is Ross@vanessaganguin.com.