Following a recent publication from the Office for National Statistics, which highlighted a net legal migration figure of 745,000 in 2022, the UK government has faced increasing pressure to implement an emergency plan to bring down legal migration figures. In response, the home secretary has announced a five-point plan to deliver the biggest-ever cut in net migration to the United Kingdom and to reduce abuse in the immigration system.
These measures are due to be implemented in Spring 2024. However, a general election is expected in 2024 and further changes to the immigration system may be announced in due course. The current five-point plan is set out below.
Higher Salary Threshold for Skilled Workers
The current minimum salary requirement for a Skilled Worker visa is £26,200 or the going rate set in the relevant Home Office code of practice, whichever is higher. The government has announced that the minimum salary will be increased to £38,700 per annum or the minimum going rate for the job they are doing, whichever is higher. This change will not apply to those applying for Health and Care visas.
Removal of the 20% Salary Reduction for Shortage Occupation Roles
Migrants whose roles fall within the Shortage Occupation List currently benefit from a 20% reduction in the going rate for the job. It is proposed that the Shortage Occupation List will be replaced with a new Immigration Salary List, which will end the 20% going rate salary discount but retain a discount to the general salary threshold. The Migration Advisory Committee will be instructed to undertake a review of the list against the increased salary thresholds to reduce the number of occupations on the list.
Currently, migrants with a role on the Shortage Occupation List also pay a lower visa application fee. It has not been announced if there will be a change to this.
Tougher Rules Under the Health and Care Visa
In February 2022, the government made care workers and home carers eligible for sponsorship under the Health and Care visa. This measure was introduced to plug a gap in labour shortages in the United Kingdom. The government considers this a temporary measure and is now concerned about high levels of non-compliance, worker exploitation, and abuse within the adult social care sector, particularly for overseas workers.
In response, the government announced that care workers will no longer be permitted to bring dependant family members to the United Kingdom. In addition, care providers will only be able to sponsor migrant workers if they are regulated by the Care Quality Commission.
Increased Income Requirement Under the Family Route
British citizens and those settled in the United Kingdom who wish for their family members to join them must meet a financial requirement. One way to meet this requirement is by earning a minimum income of £18,600. This figure will rise to a minimum income of £38,700.
The financial requirement can still be met in other ways, such as through cash savings. However, changes have not yet been announced to the minimum thresholds for alternative ways of satisfying the financial requirement.
Review of the Graduate Visa Route
The Graduate visa provides holders with permission for two years (or three years for doctorate and Ph.D. graduates) to remain in the United Kingdom and work unrestricted after successfully completing a university course in the United Kingdom.
The Migration Advisory Committee will be asked to review the Graduate route to ensure that it is working in the best interest of the United Kingdom and to ensure that the route is not being abused.
These changes follow the Home Office’s previous increase to UK visa application fees as well as announcements that from January 2024, there will be an increase to the immigration heath surcharge fees. These increased costs, coupled with the increase in salary threshold, will undoubtedly have an impact on many UK businesses and, in particular, those in the regions and businesses that sponsor graduates and talent within shortage occupation roles.
Affected businesses may therefore wish to respond to any calls for evidence from the Migration Advisory Committee over the coming months, specifically in relation to the new Immigration Salary List and the graduate visa route.
While these changes are not expected to impact the salaries paid to existing sponsored employees for the time being, and transitional measures could apply when their visas are up for renewal, employers may wish to review their sponsored migrant population and consider options such as early renewal.
Employers may also wish to review their current recruitment plans and any candidates they may intend to sponsor in the future, including any current employees who may hold another visa type, such as Youth Mobility, Graduate, or High Potential Individual. Employers may wish to sponsor these individuals under the Skilled Worker route ahead of the expected changes in the spring.