A Conservative Proposal for a New Annual Migration Cap

Kajal Nayee, a business immigration solicitor at employment law and HR firm AfterAthena, has looked at what the Conservative Party’s proposed annual migration cap could mean for businesses and migrants.

With the general election on the 4th July 2024 fast approaching, the Conservative Party has unveiled a cornerstone of its policy platform: a new annual migration cap. This proposal aims to tighten immigration controls and reduce net migration.

The Proposal

Net migration is the measure of the number of overseas people coming to the UK minus the number of people leaving the UK.

The Conservative Party’s plan includes setting a specific cap on the number of migrants allowed into the country each year on work and family visas. Temporary worker routes, such as Seasonal Agricultural Workers are exempt.

Rishi Sunak has stated that this ‘immigration lock’ would be voted amongst MPs to determine the number of grants in the UK per year, which would then be assessed by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).

The rationale behind this policy is multifaceted. The Conservatives argue that reducing immigration is necessary to relieve pressure on public services, address housing shortages, and ensure that job opportunities for domestic workers are prioritised.

Reports indicate that the proposed cap would be broken down by providing monthly allowances, with the idea that other areas that are reduced in migration would be prioritised.

The Labour Party agree that net migration should come, however believe that the Conservative’s proposed plan is a ‘chaotic approach’ pointing out that net migration figures had trebled in the UK under the Conservative Party leadership.

Implications for migrants and businesses

1. Increased Scrutiny and Compliance:

The introduction of a cap means that every visa application will be subject to stricter compliance checks to ensure adherence to the new limits. This will likely result in longer processing times and higher rejection rates, making it imperative for applicants to have thorough and accurate documentation.

There may also be an increase in remedies, such as appeals and administrative and judicial reviews, which, in essence, will be costly and time-consuming should applications be readily refused to adhere to the political migration cap.

2. Impact on Skilled Workers:

Businesses that rely on skilled workers from abroad could face significant challenges. The cap may reduce the availability of work visas, affecting industries such as healthcare, hospitality and leisure, technology, and engineering. Companies will need to invest more in domestic training and recruitment or risk skill shortages.

3. Family Reunification:

Migrants looking to bring family members to the UK may experience delays and higher barriers, making it essential to provide comprehensive evidence to support their applications.

4. Students and Educational Institutions:

The education sector could see a decrease in international student numbers resulting in a negative effect to university revenues and cultural diversity on campuses. Furthermore, students who want to come to the UK may need to demonstrate potential contributions to the economy to secure their visas.

5. Asylum Seekers

The migration monthly cap could mean that with the Home Office adhering to its monthly cap quota, it will have time to process asylum applications faster. Therefore, we would most likely would see an increase of flights to Rwanda (for processing asylum seeker applications). If asylum applications are refused, we could no doubt see an increase in appeals to challenge refusals.


The Conservative Party’s proposed annual migration cap represents a shift in the UK’s immigration policy and (as argued by the Labour Party), a reversal on its prior decisions.

Statistics from the Office for National Statistics suggest that net migration figures are falling, with an estimated 10% reduction from December 2022.

Net migration will always be a hot policy topic between the Conservatives and Labour, with each party keen to show their teeth on robustly reducing the net migration figures. However, whilst the MAC would prioritise the UK’s economy (cost of migration, the impact on public services, wages and productivity), representatives of businesses within the UK argue that a cap on migration could restrict and detrimentally affect the UK’s economy by exacerbating skill shortages and forcing automation of some roles.

Ultimately, politically motivated policies don’t just shape boarders, they also shape the future of UK’s economy.