In response to net migration figures hitting a record high, the Home Secretary, James Cleverly, has announced a five point plan with the aim of significantly reducing net migration going forward. We understand that the majority of the changes are due to come into effect in Spring 2024.
This will include the following measures:
1. Reforms to the Health and Care Visa
The government plans to stop overseas care workers from being able to bring their dependants with them to the UK in order to reduce the numbers of migrants coming to the UK under the Skilled Worker route to undertake roles as care workers or senior care workers. According to the Home Office press release, last year 120,000 dependants came into the UK via this route.
Further, businesses wishing to sponsor workers under this route will be required to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission.
2. Increasing the salary earnings threshold for Skilled Workers
The government plans to raise the minimum general annual salary threshold for a Skilled Worker from £26,200 to £38,700. The new threshold has been set at this level as it corresponds to the median income for skilled roles in aggregate. The government’s stated aims include encouraging businesses to look to British talent first and invest in their workforce and helping to deter employers from over-relying on migration. Those coming to the UK on Health and Care visas and education workers, such as teachers, on national pay scales will be exempt from this increase. However it is not yet clear whether the current minimum salary threshold of £20,960 per annum for care workers will remain in place or be lifted.
It appears that a reduced salary threshold for new entrants may continue to apply in some form as the government has stated that salary discounts for those towards the start of their careers will still exist.
Importantly, at the time of writing, it is unclear whether these changes will apply to Skilled Workers already in the UK who wish to extend their leave. The Home Office has stated that these new policies will not be applied retrospectively and, until the immigration rules are amended, the salary threshold will remain the same. However, they added that they are establishing the specifics of the policy, including how it will apply to those renewing visas, and will confirm more details in due course.
3. Reforms to the Shortage Occupation List
Following on from the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) review of the shortage occupation list in October 2023, the government has promised to reform the Shortage Occupation List into an Immigration Salary List. It will also end the 20% going rate salary discount for shortage occupations, as recommended by the MAC.
As part of the changes, the government will commission the MAC to advise on the establishment of a new Immigration Salary List and also to consider whether to retain the general minimum salary discount in light of the new salary thresholds.
4. Increasing family route income threshold
The minimum annual income requirement for an individual (including a British national) to sponsor a partner to come to the UK under the family route will increase from £18,600 to £38,700. Those with significant savings may still be able to meet the financial requirements via their savings, but the new figures for savings have not yet been announced. Unfortunately it is also not yet clear whether the increased minimum salary threshold will apply to those already in the UK who wish to extend their immigration permission next year.
5. MAC to review graduate route
The government has asked the MAC to review the graduate route (likely with a view to introducing further reforms) “to prevent abuse and protect the integrity and quality of the UK’s outstanding higher education sector”.
The proposed changes will inevitably have a significant effect on both sponsors and migrants for all of the affected immigration routes.
The prohibition on care workers bringing dependants to the UK will almost certainly lead to fewer overseas nationals coming to the UK to take up these roles, especially as they are unlikely to be able to bring their families to join them even once the care worker has acquired indefinite leave to remain, given the increase to the family visa minimum income requirements.
The significant increase to the Skilled Worker minimum salary threshold will also have a considerable effect on other skilled occupations as many of these will effectively be priced out of eligibility for the Skilled Worker route. Indeed, the new minimum salary threshold of £38,700 per annum is almost £4,000 higher than the current average annual UK salary of £34,963. In particular, in the hospitality, catering, retail and construction sectors, employers are highly unlikely to be able to pay salaries at a level high enough to meet the new threshold and will therefore no longer be able to sponsor overseas workers.
It’s possible that the changes may also affect those who are taking on graduate level roles, including those currently working for businesses under a two year graduate visa or those who are still at university but have been offered a graduate position to start during the course of 2024. Even if there is a new entrant reduction, it is possible that in some cases the new salary threshold may not be met. HR professionals should keep an eye out for updated guidance next year and consider early what they will do in relation to those who are impacted by the changes.
Businesses and individuals should also be aware that the Immigration Health Skills Surcharge, which is currently £634 per person, per year of the visa will be increasing to £1,035 from 16 January 2024. This measure may also mean that fewer people are able to afford to come to the UK. If possible, we recommend submitting any applications before that date to avoid this very hefty increase.