The Tories said they'll cut migration - but haven't they promised that before?

ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks looks at the Conservative promises on migration over the years, and the pledges of the other parties.

For the past 14 years successive Conservative governments have pledged to cut net migration, while the overall number has continued to rise.

Net migration is the difference between the number of people coming in to the country, and the number leaving. It hit a record high of 745,000 in 2022, and despite falling by 10% in 2023 to 685,000 - the number remains three times higher than in 2019.

Rishi Sunak has joined his predecessors in saying he wants the figure to come down, committing on Tuesday to what he calls an 'Immigration Lock' - an annual cap on work and family visas.

He says the cap will reduce every year for the five years of the next parliament, but crucially he hasn't committed to a number he'd like to get it down to.

Instead, MPs would vote each year on reducing the numbers, which would be based on recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).

Now Foreign Secretary David Cameron was the first person who promised to cut the numbers back when he was Tory leader during the 2010 election, saying he'd get net migration down to "tens of thousands." At that point it stood at 252,000.

In 2011 he doubled down on this, saying he would hit the target by 2015 - "no ifs, no buts." When the 2015 election rolled around, net migration had risen to 379,000.

In 2017, when Theresa May was Tory leader, she recommitted to Cameron's pledge on cutting the number to "tens of thousands."

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When Boris Johnson became leader, he refused to commit to a specific figure, but promised "overall numbers would come down". At the end of 2019 net migration was 274,000 - and the numbers have kept going up.

The prime minister is hoping his new promise to cut net migration will increase pressure on Labour.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also committed to bring down migration levels, telling the Sun newspaper - "read my lips - I will cut immigration." But he's also refused to set an overall target, committing instead to training more UK workers in areas where there are skills shortages.

On the other hand, the Reform Party - newly led by Nigel Farage - say the UK should aim for zero net migration, only allowed skilled workers into the UK in strictly limited numbers.

The Liberal Democrats say they don't want to set targets, but would give visas to those who benefit the UK economy, and also train more British workers. They say this would make net migration figures fall.

In Scotland, the SNP want more inward migration to plug workforce and skills gaps.

Overall a total of 802,000 visas to work or study in the UK were issued last year. The government has already brought in some measures to try and bring that figure down.

Last year they announced they would increase the salary threshold for skilled workers to £38,700, a nearly 50% rise on the previous figure which was a minimum of £26,200.

They have also banned most students from bringing family members over with them.

Government figures suggest those measures are starting to have an impact with visa applications for health and care workers down 50%, and those for students down 60% in the first few months of 2024. But, applications for skilled worker visas have increased by 50%.

But there are economic trade-offs, with universities heavily reliant on the income from overseas students, and the care sector particularly struggling with labour shortages.

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