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UK political parties’ immigration policies explained – who should I vote for?

A composite image featuring, left to right, Carla Denyer, Rishi Sunak, Nigel Farage, Keir Starmer and Ed Davey
All main parties have set out their positions on immigration for the election (Picture: PA/Getty)

There’s an awful lot to talk about in the 2024 General Election campaign, and immigration is proving to be a key battleground.

The issue is made up of two distinct parts: illegal immigration, most visibly the small boats crossing the English Channel; and legal immigration, which largely revolves around visas.

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According to the Conservatives and Labour, the number of both illegal and legal migrants coming into the UK is too high – but they disagree on what to do about it.

Nigel Farage has attempted to shift the focus even further onto this issue after his late entry into the race as leader of Reform UK.

Click on the links below to jump to a run-down of each main party’s pledges on immigration:



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The Conservatives’ immigration policy

  • ‘Stop the boats’
  • See the Rwanda plan go through
  • Introduce a new annual cap on visas
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a press conference in the Downing Street Briefing Room. The podium reads; 'Stop the boats'
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has put his pledge to ‘stop the boats’ at the centre of his term in office (Picture: PA)

The Tories have repeatedly vowed to ‘stop the boats’, referring to the small vessels which have carried an estimated 11,000 undocumented migrants and asylum seekers into the UK this year.

Rishi Sunak’s government has increased cooperation with French coastguards and signed a major deal with the EU to tackle people smuggling.

One of his main points going forward is ‘seeing through’ plans to send people who arrive in the UK illegally to Rwanda, though he has admitted the first flights won’t take off before July 4.

The Tories have also signed returns deals with individual countries such as Alabania.

They’re pledging to sign more of these deals and ‘rewrite asylum treaties to make them fit for the challenges we face’.

As for legal immigration, the party announced its plan to introduce a new annual cap on visas late last night.

Ministers have pointed to figures from the Office for National Statistics showing a reduction in net migration last year as evidence their current efforts are working – though the total the previous year, in 2022, was historically high.

Net migration is worked out by subtracting the total number of people who left the country by the total number of people who entered the country, to show how immigration has affected the UK population.

The Labour Party’s immigration policy

  • Launch a new Border Security Command
  • Support businesses to ‘hire Brits first’
  • Support recent visa changes brought in by the government
Labour leader Keir Starmer gives a thumbs up alongside MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke as he announces Labour's plan to stop illegal small boat crossings on May 10, 2024 in Dover, England
Labour leader Keir Starmer brought Dover’s Tory MP over to the party in an attempt to boost his border security credentials (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Labour is also pledging to ‘stop the boats’ but will completely scrap the Rwanda scheme.

Keir Starmer has said he would spend the money reserved for the scheme on beefing up the UK’s border enforcement.

This would include setting up a new ‘Border Security Command’ with powers to search people at the border, investigate the financing behind people smuggling and issue search and seizure warrants targeting organised people smugglers.

On legal migration, Labour would also introduce policies to ‘make sure British businesses are helped to hire Brits first’.

Businesses applying for foreign work visas for new recruits would first have to help train British people to do the jobs they’re recruiting for.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has ruled out scrapping the Tories’ decision to hike minimum salary requirements for certain skilled work visas by up to 50%.

The Liberal Democrats’ immigration policy

  • Invest in services to tackle smuggling, trafficking and modern slavery
  • Replace Conservatives’ salary threshold for visas with ‘merit-based’ system
  • Expand Youth Mobility Scheme
Ed Davey speaking to an audience with supporters holding orange Liberal Democrats signs behind him
The Lib Dems have criticised the government’s plans to tackle small boat crossings (Picture: Geoff Caddick/Getty Images)

The Lib Dems have no plans to reduce immigration numbers and are pledging to scrap the current salary requirement for migrant workers.

The party would replace it with a ‘flexible merit-based system’, though details of how this would work are vague.

Their manifesto says government officials would be ‘working with employers in each sector to address specific needs’, suggesting quotas of some sort would still be imposed.

Ed Davey’s party would also scrap the Tories’ ban on migrant care workers bringing partners and children to the UK.

On irregular migration, it says it would scrap the Rwanda scheme and ‘invest the savings in clearing the asylum backlog’.

To tackle the small boats issue in the Channel, the Lib Dems say they would work closely with Europol and the French authorities to stop smuggling and trafficking gangs.

The Lib Dems are also pledging open ‘safe and legal routes to sanctuary for refugees’, including ‘humanitarian travel permits’ allowing asylum seekers to legally travel to the UK and lodge claims on British soil.

The Green Party’s immigration policy

  • Split the Home Office into two
  • No barriers to prevent or deter asylum seekers wanting to come into the UK
  • Scrap minimum income and language requirements for visas
Green Party co-leaders Carla Denyer (Bristol Central) and Adrian Ramsay (Waveney Valley) pose for the media during the Green Party campaign launch
Green Party co-leaders Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay (Picture: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

The Green Party has an asylum and migration policy working group that writes up its ideas in those areas – then puts them all in an easy-to-read format on their website, ideal for political journalists who are writing up an article like this.

Under their plans, the Home Office would be split into two parts: the Department of the Interior and the Department of Migration.

The Department of Migration would ‘deploy no physical or administrative barriers to prevent or deter’ asylum seekers wanting to come into the UK.

It would also treat all claims as admissible ‘regardless of the route by which the applicants have arrived’ and immigration detention would be abolished.

Any minimum income requirements for visas would be scrapped, along with any language requirements. Free language classes would be made available ‘to promote and encourage integration’.

Residents on a visa would be free to bring over to the UK family members who would usually live with them in their home country, while any undocumented migrants who have been in the country for more than five years would be invited to apply for settled status.

Reform UK’s immigration policy

  • Focus on ‘the immigration election’
  • ‘Stop the boats’ (with a six-point plan)
  • Freeze all non-essential, ‘unskilled’ immigration (excluding care workers)
Nigel Farage announcing that he will stand as MP for Clacton in the forthcoming General Election.He stands on a stage with the slogan, 'Britain needs reform'
Nigel Farage has been talking about immigration for his entire political career (Picture: Guy Bell/Shutterstock)

Nigel Farage has said the election ‘is and must be the immigration election’.

According to the Reform website, the party would ‘stop the boats’ with a six-point plan:



What is Reform UK’s six-point plan?

  1. Recognise a national security threat
  2. Leave the European Convention on Human Rights
  3. Zero illegal immigrants to be resettled in the UK
  4. Offshore processing for illegal arrivals
  5. New Department of Immigration (an unlikely crossover policy with the Greens)
  6. Pick up migrants out of boats and take back to France

However, when Farage was interviewed on the Today programme in June, he suggested point four – about offshore processing – would be scrapped, as he considers it ‘terribly impractical’.

Reform has said it would freeze all non-essential immigration, which Farage defines as ‘unskilled’ workers.

However, he added that he does not consider care workers – who are usually included in that definition – to be unskilled.

Asked if he would be happy to still allow around half a million people to migrate to the UK in order to bring net migration to zero (since around half a million people left the UK last year), the Reform leader told Mishal Husain: ‘It’s far too many, but if that’s what we need and it makes you happy, that’s what we’ll do.’

Our analysis

Crew aboard Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboat pick up migrants in an inflatable boat who were travelling across the English Channel, bound for Dover
More than 29,000 migrants arrived in the UK last year by crossing the English Channel on small boats (Picture: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

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