Immigration: a 2017 election summary

With just three weeks to go until Britain takes to the polls, the major political parties have unveiled their manifestos. Immigration, arguably one of the…

The manifestos are out. What is each party committing to on immigration?

With just three weeks to go until Britain takes to the polls, the major political parties have unveiled their manifestos.
Immigration, arguably one of the most politicised issues and, rightly or wrongly, one of the areas of greatest public concern in this election marks clear distinctions between the parties.
We’ve heard a lot of talk about numbers and targets, but what is each party committing to on immigration? And what does it mean for an inclusive future after we leave the European Union?
We’ve filtered through the 316 pages of pledges, promises and promotion so you don’t have to.


Analysis by Rosie Carter


Overall approach

Labour use their wordy manifesto to attack the scapegoating of migrants for economic concerns, and put forward what they call “fair rules and reasonable management of migration”. They have not set anything out in numeric numbers or targets but have offered a liberal approach to taking in refugees and to ending exploitation and abuse of migrant workers- with specific attention paid to domestic workers.

The Liberal Democrats’ pro-EU stance is clear in their manifesto, which aims to maintain freedom of movement, encourage student migration, and promote rights for refugees, while their approach to migration from outside of the EU is less clear beyond improving home office efficiency. The party use their manifesto to advocate for a more positive rhetoric around immigration and to uphold refugee rights.

The Conservative Party take a tough approach to immigration and against the wishes of many in the party, Theresa May has pledged to hold onto the net migration target that will continue to include student figures. Their hard-line approach, which includes skill charges for employers of migrant workers, toughening visa requirements for students and increasing the income threshold for family visas, may be an intention to catch UKIP voters.

Take a look at a summary of each party’s position below, and keep reading for an in-depth look at the details of their proposals for immigration policy.


  • Keep the net migration target, inclusive of student numbers, and tighten policies to reduce the rate of migration to the tens of thousands
  • Introduce £2,000 skill charges for employers of migrant workers to fund training for British workers
  • Increase the costs for migration, by increasing the Immigration Health Surcharge to £600 for migrant workers and £450 for students, and by raising the minimum income threshold for those looking to sponsor migrants for family visas



  • Immediately guarantee the right to remain for all EU citizens currently living and working in the UK
  • Favour economic need over numeric targets and drop student numbers from official figures
  • Improve the current asylum dispersal system and ensure international collaboration to take in Britain’s fair share of refugees



  • Maintain freedom of movement
  • Unilaterally guarantee the right to remain for EU citizens living in the UK
  • Expand the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme to offer sanctuary to 50,000 refugees

EU migration

Where parties sit on EU migration forms a large part of where they position themselves on the ‘hard’ to ‘soft’ Brexit scale. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have both confirmed that they will secure the right to remain for all EU citizens in Britain and to push for the rights of British citizens living in the EU to remain. The Lib Dems have also pledged to simplify the registration process for EU nationals to gain permanent residency and UK citizenship. The Tories have not offered a unilateral guarantee of the right to remain for EU citizens but will instead “secure the entitlements of EU nationals in Britain”.

The Lib Dems are the only party of the big three who intend to maintain freedom of movement rules. In line with their aim to meet the net migration target, the Tories will “reduce & control the number of people who come to Britain from EU” while seeking to attract the highly skilled. Labour have not spelled out future approaches, but have hinted at prioritising highly skilled migration.


Non-EU migration

The Conservative Party will “continue to bear down on immigration from outside the European Union”, tightening the tourniquet on migration flows by introducing a “Skills Charge” of £2,000 a year levied on companies employing migrant workers. This will be used to invest in skills training for workers in the UK. They also plan to increase the Immigration Health Surcharge to £600 for migrant workers to cover their use of the NHS and pledge to increase the minimum income threshold for those looking to sponsor migrants for family visas.

Labour hope to gain extra revenue by introducing a contributory element from investments required for High Net Worth Individual Visas. They state that they will clearly differentiate between family and work migrants have stated that they will replace minimum income thresholds with a prohibition on recourse to public funds. No recourse to public funds has been opposed by a number of organisations, who fear the consequences of the policy on homelessness, families and survivors of domestic violence.

Approaches from the two main parties will raise concern for those looking for fairer family reunification laws. The Lib Dems have set out to reform family reunion rules to make it easier for refugees to join relatives already living in the UK but do explicit anything on other forms of migration from outside of the EU.


International Students

The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto is encouraging on student migration, pledging to work with universities in order to “ensure a fair and transparent student visa process”. It states that the party will fight to retain the Erasmus+ scheme and other EU-funded opportunities for British young people. Labour hold a similar approach, and will ensure that student migrants are not counted in immigration numbers while cracking down on “fake colleges”.

Theresa May has gone against many in the party by maintaining student numbers in the net migration target. While their manifesto states the importance of international students for the UK’s education system their plans are set to be hard, toughening student visa requirements and increasing the Immigration Health Surcharge to £450 for international students, to cover their use of the NHS. The Tories state that they expect students to leave the UK once they have completed their studies. In contrast, the Liberal Democrats aim to reintroduce post-study work visas for students of maths, engineering, science and technology and to give devolved administrations the right to sponsor additional post-study work visas.


Asylum Seekers and refugees

The Lib Dems have set to offer 50,000 people sanctuary in the UK under an extended Syrian Vulnerable Persons resettlement scheme over the lifetime of the next parliament, and to reintroduce the Dubs scheme, ensuring 3,000 unaccompanied children are taken in and given indefinite leave to remain. They would also offer asylum seekers the right to work in the UK if they have waited more than six months for a decision on their status.

Labour’s statement that “refugees are not migrants” sets out their approach to refugees, which clearly differentiates categories of migrants and centres international cooperation in taking in Britain’s fair share of refugees. Labour’s manifesto pledges to continue working with the EU as partners on cross-border issues, including the ongoing refugee crises. Their approach does not contain anything specific on Syrian resettlement programmes, unaccompanied minors or child refugees but instead focusses on reforms to the existing asylum dispersal system which may entail changes to housing arrangements.

The Conservative Party promote refugee resettlement programmes over the spontaneous arrival of asylum seekers, which they aim to reduce. They frame this in line with much media coverage of the ongoing refugee crisis, stating that the current system is “geared towards people who are young enough, fit enough & have resources to get to Britain” rather than those with genuine need. They state that they will review international definitions of asylum and refugee status and have made no commitment to the Syrian refugee resettlement schemes set out in 2015. This approach will concern many advocates of refugee rights.


Numbers and Border Controls

Labour state that they will not base their immigration policy on numbers or targets, but consult with trade Unions and employers to ensure immigration meets the needs of the economy. They have pledged to end indefinite detention, which will be welcome news to advocates of migrant rights who will be looking for alternatives to all detention. However, their manifesto does not give a clear indication of their approach to border controls- beyond the recruitment of 500 more border guards. They use the manifesto to criticise the Conservatives’ ‘hostile environment’ approach, which employs public sector workers and private landlords to provide information on immigration to authorities.

The Lib Dems have been vocal about dropping the net migration target in the run up to the election but their manifesto only refers to this through dropping student numbers from official migration numbers. They have criticised the inefficiency of the home office including backlogs of immigration cases and set out to improve funding for border controls to ensure that immigration systems are efficient and irregular routes are better policed. Alike labour, the Lib Dems say that they will end indefinite detention, and have set to introduce a 28-day limit.

The Conservatives manifesto frames immigration through a numeric lens, prioritising the highly skilled and pledging to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, a target which is yet to be reached. Their harsh evaluation that “immigration to Britain is still too high” will resonate with many voters, as the majority of the public want to see immigration reduced. They claim that this will be achieved through improved policing of borders, although the details on this are unclear.



The Tories believe that “when immigration is too fast and too high, it is difficult to build a cohesive society”, so their pledge to reduce immigration with have positive consequences for integration. It is clear the Casey review has impacted their approach to community relations, as their new integration strategy will “seek to help people in more isolated communities to engage with the wider world, help women in particular into the workplace, and teach more people to speak English.” The party will also make sure “British values” are taught in schools with high intakes from one predominant racial, cultural or religious background.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats take a similar approach to integration. Both parties have proposed to bring back a migration impact fund, similar to the scheme launched by Gordon Brown’s government in 2009. This is a ring fenced pot of money intended to meet the needs of communities facing pressures on public services and housing due to rapid immigration. Both parties have also laid out plans to provide additional funding for English as a foreign language classes, which Labour claim to make free at the point of use.


So what does this all mean?

None of the parties have set out particularly clear or watertight plans on immigration, all making vague claims to milk the benefits of skilled immigration while challenging “unwanted” impacts. It is obvious that the heated political climate surrounding the issue of the last few years has influenced their intentions.

The manifestos mirror the polarised debate we have seen on immigration, with the two liberal-leaning parties standing on a pro-migration platform centring refugee protection and international students but treading murkier waters on what post-Brexit immigration systems will look like. On the other side, Theresa May’s manifesto claims to further tighten restrictions and drive down numbers through harsher visa mechanisms and higher costs for migrants.

We’re still waiting to hear from UKIP, or the Greens, but given the divided positions already set out by the major three, these may well appear redundant to undecided voters with immigration concerns.


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