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James Cleverly’s five point plan for immigration hits skilled worker employers, healthcare staff and families

James Cleverly

Updated 15 December 202

The UK Home Secretary James Cleverly has addressed parliament with details of his government’s new measures aimed at reducing UK net migration which has risen post-Brexit, partly as a result of mounting skills shortages in sectors such as healthcare, engineering and tech.

The Home Secretary’s announcements may appease the anti-immigration right of his party, but they will add to the costs of employers filling skills gaps from abroad and will divide families.

Those seeking to sponsor employees in the near future, or those who want loved ones to join them in Britain may want to expedite applications before next spring when the Home Secretary said his “five-point plan” to reduce annual immigration by 300,000 will come into effect.

James Cleverly told MPs that this is the government’s five-point plan:

The minimum salary for a Skilled Worker visa will rise from the current level of £26,200 to £38,700. Only Health and Care visas would be exempt.

The government will stop overseas care workers from bringing family dependants to the UK and care firms will have to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission in order for them to sponsor visas.

The rule allowing workers on the shortage occupation list to be hired at 20% below the going rate will end, the Home Secretary added, and he would liaise with the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) who he has asked to review which occupations should remain on the list of shortage occupations.

James Cleverly said that following the ban of non-research overseas postgraduates bringing family to the UK (announced earlier this year) he would ask the MAC to review the Graduate visa route that allows international graduates two years to find skilled employment in the UK (three for postgraduates.)

In another controversial move that will keep many apart from loved ones, James Cleverly said that from the spring the minimum income someone has to earn to bring a dependent partner or child to the UK will be almost doubled from £18,600 to £38,700.

Raising the salary threshold to bring a loved one to the UK will penalise all but the richest British and settled people for loving someone but not being paid enough in their job. While the changes to the work-based immigration routes are significant and attracted comment from both benches of the House of Commons following the announcement, it’s unfortunate that none of the MPs in attendance chose to address (or perhaps failed to recognise) the impact of doubling the requirement for families of British citizens who want family to join them. Paradoxically, it will be easier for currently sponsored migrants to bring dependants to the UK than for British citizens.

British citizens would now have to be paid around double the minimum wage to be able to live in their country with those that they love, which will cause heartache for the majority of British workers who earn under £38,700, especially women, younger couples, working class families and those outside the capital who are all even less likely to meet the threshold to be able to live with loved ones in the UK. In fact, according to the Office of National Statistics the only region with a median income that would allow people to bring family to the UK is London.

As well as regional disparities, these UK immigration measures disproportionately hit women, ethnic minorities, part-time workers and mothers especially. While the median full-time wage for resident men is £35,658, for women it is £29,699 and more women tend to work part-time. At any rate, most will fall far short of the £38,700 requirement.

Immigration practitioners will also be concerned about the effects of raising the minimum salary level for sponsoring the talent that businesses need by so much. Again, this will hit businesses in poorer regions much worse than areas around the capital where salaries tend to be higher. Some sectors such as hospitality, construction and entertainment that need skilled workers with lower going rates of pay will be hit more than other sectors with skill gaps with going rates that are higher than £38,700.

The Home Secretary told the House of Commons that £38,700 is “the median full-term wage for those kinds of jobs” – presumably he means occupations that can be sponsored as a Skilled Worker – though clearly in many parts of Britain this will be a high salary to pay for some of the roles that employers need to sponsor workers from abroad for.  Perhaps in due time, the Home Secretary will reveal how this figure was arrived at.

According to the Office of National Statistics, across the whole of the United Kingdom, the median annual earnings for full-time employees was £34,963 for the tax year ending on 5 April 2023, with massive regional disparities.

We have long called for salary level differentials for different parts of the UK to help regional businesses to grow as fast as their London counterparts and this will have the opposite effect. So much for levelling up.

Oxford University’s Migration Observatory think-tank said in 2017 that a system of regional salary thresholds would help “level the playing field” for employers in lower-earning regions where the costs of living are lower and help these areas’ economic needs.

In Scotland where concerns about the effects of a declining working population on growth and the viability of public services including the National Health Service are a great concern, this will reinvigorate the Scottish National Party’s calls for independent control of immigration policy.

Cleverly’s announcement was followed by a Home Office release which clarified that “the government will end the 20% going rate salary discount for shortage occupations and replace the Shortage Occupation List with a new Immigration Salary List, which will retain a general threshold discount. The Migration Advisory Committee will review the new list against the increased salary thresholds in order to reduce the number of occupations on the list.”

So the one nugget of good news for employers of occupations that remain on the new “Immigration Salary List” rebrand of the “Shortage Occupation List” is that despite losing a 20% discount on the going rate for sponsored employees, the minimum wage threshold will be lower than the Skilled Worker minimum threshold of £38,700.

(Employers must pay the higher amount of the salary threshold or whatever the Government determine is “the going rate” for an occupation that may be sponsored.)

There appears to have been little consultation – none with business sectors, immigration practitioners or other stakeholders (unless we include Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick who has been publicly lobbying for such changes). James Cleverly was quizzed by MPs after his announcements about to who had been consulted. When asked about who had been consulted about the consequences of his measures to reduce health and care visas, for instance, the Home Secretary insisted that the MAC has been asked about such measures, but there has been no such recent public consultation with the MAC on this topic.

As Unison the care union warned today, separating immigrant carers – who are in the main women – from their children is unnecessarily cruel and there is nobody that works in the underfunded care sector that thinks this a good idea.

Christina McAnea, General Secretary of Unison, said “this will be an utter disaster because what they’re doing is basically sending out a really strong message to those migrant workers who are basically propping up the care sector and indeed in many cases the health sector and saying you’re not welcome here.”

Professor Nicola Ranger, chief nurse at the Royal College of Nursing, warned: “ministers appear comfortable with tearing apart families to score political points. This cruel sanction will deter care workers from coming to the UK, adding to dire workforce shortages in social care and ultimately piling even more pressure on an overburdened NHS. The Home Secretary admitted in his own announcement in the Commons that health workers with families will be put off joining our short-staffed health and care services.”

All these measures apart from the review of the Shortage Occupation List which may take longer, are set to take effect in the spring which for UK immigration policy usually means around March / April. The Prime Minister, Home Secretary and immigration ministers have tried to reassure those affected that changes will not affect applications before then.

In further parliamentary announcements, the new Minister for Legal Migration Tom Pursglove suggested that we can expect more details in January on transitionary measures, including what will happen to those already in the UK who renew family or work visas after these changes come into effect.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any concerns, especially if you would like to expedite any sponsoring or visa applications before these changes are introduced. To speak to one of our UK immigration experts contact us on 0207 033 9527 or at enquiries@vanessaganguin.com for a free initial consultation.