Downing Street is poised to announce that it will lift the cap on visas for skilled migrants that has led to more than a thousand doctors being denied entry to the UK, after the home secretary, Sajid Javid, said he was “taking a fresh look” at the policy.
Theresa May has been under intense pressure to loosen the restrictions, including from the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, after quotas for so-called tier 2 visas began to bite in recent months.
And she was left with little choice after Javid used an interview on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show to distance himself from key aspects of her immigration policy – including the tier 2 cap.
“A number of my colleagues have asked me to look at this and it’s exactly what I’m doing,” Javid said, when asked about reports of doctors’ visa applications being turned down.
A No 10 source said the policy was kept under review, and the NHS was always a high priority in ensuring Britain’s economy has the workers it needs.
Last week the BMJ reported that between December and March, more than 1,500 visa applications from doctors with job offers in the UK were refused as a result of the cap on the number of tier 2 visas issued to workers from outside the European Economic Area.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “We welcome a government review of the tier 2 visa system. Many of our employers could not again get certificates of sponsorship for doctors during May. It is now six months since we first started having problems, along with other sectors.” He called for the home office to implement, “a speedy, effective solution”.
Javid’s predecessor, Amber Rudd, was criticised for failing to set out a distinctive approach to immigration after succeeding May in the post. But Javid hinted that he was willing to change course on several policies personally championed by the prime minister.
As well as loosening restrictions on high-skilled workers, he promised to review the Home Office’s “hostile environment” for migrants, in light of the Windrush scandal.
The home secretary, who prefers the term “compliant environment”, said the government would continue to clamp down on illegal immigrants but said he wanted to check whether it was being implemented well.
He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr show: “From the Windrush [scandal], there will be lessons to be learned about how all that compliant environment policy is actually implemented. Is it actually working the way it was intended? … I am going to look at how it’s being implemented, I want to review aspects of the policy, I’ve already made some changes, certainly I’ve suspended certain things, for example opening bank accounts and whether you can or cannot as an illegal immigrant.”
In another departure from the prime minister’s approach, Javid said he would “look again” at the inclusion of international students in net immigration figures, saying there was a “perception problem”.
Critics, including several cabinet ministers, who want foreign students removed from immigration figures, have long argued that very few overstay their visas and so there is no reason for their inclusion.
Javid declined to back away from a Conservative pledge to reduce net immigration to tens of thousands, saying: “I’m committed to our manifesto.”
The pledge was first made by David Cameron in 2010 and Theresa May retained it in last year’s election manifesto despite repeated failures to get close to the figure.
Asked whether he was personally committed to it, Javid said: “I’ll be working towards, rightly, reducing net migration and bringing it to lower, sustainable levels.”
In an update on the 63 members of the Windrush generation believed to have been wrongfully deported or removed from the UK, he said the government had only managed to contact seven so far. Javid said he had no interest in contacting 32 of those 63 who were labelled foreign national offenders as “I don’t want them back in our country”.
He said the government was still trying to identify how many people from the Windrush generation had been wrongly detained, on top of those deported.
Javid succeeded Rudd after she was was forced to resign having repeatedly struggled to account for her role in the unjust treatment of Windrush generation migrants.
Asked by Marr about allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservative party, he replied: “Just look at who the home secretary is in this country.” He claimed the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which has called for an inquiry into Islamophobic incidents in the party “does not represent Muslims”.
However it emerged that more than 350 mosques and Muslim organisations from around the country have written to the Conservative party supporting the council’s call for an inquiry into Islamophobia. A MCB spokesman said: “We very much welcome the many councils of mosques who have written in support of our call for an inquiry into this issue.
“It reflects the importance that this issue holds in Muslim communities across the UK and the breadth of support for the Muslim Council of Britain. Rather than attack the messenger, we urge the party to reconsider its approach and deal with the evidence.”