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James Cleverly’s immigration curbs for workers and families – what we know

19 December 2023 

The new Home Secretary James Cleverly’s “five-point plan” to reduce annual immigration by 300,000 has caused consternation in many UK sectors already finding difficulties filling vacancies without sponsoring migrant workers.

The Home Secretary’s announcements may not appease all those in his party preoccupied with immigration numbers. However they will add to the costs of employers filling skills gaps from abroad and likely make it impossible for 60 per cent of British and settled workers to earn enough to have their partner come to live with them in the UK on a family visa.

Below is a summary of what affected employers, employees and their families need to know about the changes, based on the answers we have been able to give worried clients up to now.

Skilled Worker salary threshold raised to £38,700

In a major change for the UK’s most popular work immigration route, the minimum salary threshold employers pay to sponsor an employee on a Skilled Worker visa is set to rise by almost 50 per cent from the current level of £26,200 to £38,700 next spring. Health and Care visas will be exempt (as will other professions on a national pay scale, for example, teachers, according to a press release that accompanied the James Cleverly’s announcement in parliament).

The Home Secretary insisted that £38,700 is “the median full-term wage for those kinds of jobs” – though clearly for some sectors, especially in regions of Britain with lower wage rates than the capital, this will be a rather higher salary to pay for many roles that employers need to sponsor workers from abroad for.

The announcements appear to many to have been rushed out as a reaction to the Office for National Statistics revising its estimate of 2022’s net migration up to 745,000. There have been no signs of public consultation or impact assessment.

Many employers are now concerned about retaining staff and contractors on Skilled Worker visas, as well as affording to sponsor new ones. However, we spotted this parliamentary written answer by the new Legal Immigration Minister Tom Pursglove, which will at least give employers, workers and their families already in the UK some reassurance about their status going forward:

“Until the Immigration Rules are amended next Spring, the current salary and Minimum Income Requirement thresholds, and policies relating to dependants, remain in place and at the current levels,” he wrote, adding, helpfully that “those already in the Skilled work route, and applications made before the rules change, will not be subject to the new £38,700 salary threshold when they change employment, extend, or settle.”

Minimum income requirement for family visas almost doubles

The spring change making the most headlines is the unexpected announcement that the minimum income requirement for British and settled workers to bring a dependent partner to the UK on a family visa will almost double from £18,600 to £38,700. Most Brits earn less than this threshold and face having to live abroad to continue relationship or live apart. This would make it much tougher to live together in the UK than most comparable countries and human rights challenges are already being readied.

The UK Government insists that people will still be able to use savings as well as income to do this and that there would be exceptions in some circumstances where people cannot meet the required level to show they have the means to support a dependant.

More details have been promised on whether there will be a similar increase to the minimum income level for a family visa for dependent children and how those already in the UK on family visas will be affected when it comes to renewing them.

Care workers prevented from bringing family dependants to the UK

From next spring overseas care workers – including senior care workers – will no longer be able to bring family dependants to the UK. Firms will also have to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission if they want to sponsor care staff.

Shortage Occupation List changes

From spring 2024, employers will no longer be able to sponsor migrant workers on the UK’s Shortage Occupation List at 20 per cent below the going rate. The Government is also launching a review of the list which cuts the expense for employers sponsoring Skilled Workers to fill dire skills shortages. It will be rebranded as the “Immigration Salary List.” .

Sponsors of Skilled Workers must pay the highest amount of the salary threshold, whatever the UK Government determine is “the going rate” for that occupation, or, in most cases an hourly rate of £10.75. So, if the new rebranded Immigration Salary List includes more shortage occupations and the lower minimum salary threshold for shortage occupations stays below the £38,700 Skilled Workers will have to be paid, this should help recruit staff to fill shortages where going rates of pay are much lower than £38,700.

Graduate visa review

The Home Secretary also announced that the Graduate visa route that allows international graduates to live and work in the UK for two years (three for people completing doctoral courses) will be reviewed. The Graduate visa is useful for employers who want to employ international students after they finish their UK degrees without the commitments or bureaucracy of sponsoring them. This review will be carried out over the course of next year.

Immigration Health Surcharge set to rise

HR teams preparing for the above spring changes should also be aware that there is a 67 per cent increase in the Immigration Health Surcharge planned for late January – though it may now be early February as the increase has to pass a confirmatory vote in the House of Commons and the House of Lords next month before it is implemented. The surcharge is the mandatory fee to use the National Health Service that most migrants pay upfront with immigration applications to use the NHS. It will increase from £470 per year to £776 per year for children, students, their dependants and youth mobility workers, and from £624 per year to an eye-watering £1,035 per year for everyone else.

To mitigate any of these measures, it would be advisable to expedite any applications that may be affected sooner rather than later. I would surmise that by “next spring” the Home Secretary means March / April – which is when immigration policy changes are often implemented.