More clarity for employers, workers and families hit by James Cleverly’s immigration reducing measures
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Updated 22 January 2024
We have more clarity on James Cleverly’s announcements on measures to cut net migration in the form of ministerial answers and Home Office updates that have followed. I have summarised below what more we currently know about these changes from the much-needed clarifications published in the weeks following the Home Secretary’s 4 December announcement of his five-point plan to parliament.
If you have upcoming UK immigration applications that may be affected by these developments, we strongly advise applying sooner rather than later, with legal advice, to ensure you get it right first time. To speak to one of our friendly UK immigration experts contact us on 0207 033 9527 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
People already on the immigration routes by the time these changes are implemented will not face the new measures when renewing visas or applying for settlement, according to the clarifications detailed below.
Skilled worker salary threshold and going rate hikes
Employers sponsoring anyone on a Skilled Worker visa must ensure the position pays whichever is the highest out of the salary threshold for the visa, whatever the UK government determine is the going rate for a particular occupation code, plus usually the hourly rate of £10.75.
We have had many questions from employers concerned about the news that the minimum salary threshold employers pay to sponsor an employee on a Skilled Worker visa will rise by almost 50% from the current level of £26,200 to £38,700 at the same time that the Shortage Occupation List is scrapped along with its 20% discount on the “going rate” for sponsored staff in recognised shortage jobs.
For many sponsored Skilled Worker roles an even more significant development will be an increase in their going rates too in April. The UK government currently prescribes going rates for occupations periodically using the 25th percentile of salaries for that role according to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) carried out by the Office of National Statistics.
From 4 April, the 50th percentile (median) of the 2023 ASHE will be used to set going rates for occupation codes. So, for example, human resource managers and directors would currently have to be paid £36,500 – the present going rate, but the median going rate according to the provisional ASHE 2023 data we have would be £49,409, which sponsoring employers would have to match as it’s a higher figure than the £38,700 new salary threshold.
The Government has confirmed that these changes will be implemented in April 2024, so we expect a rush to get applications in this spring from HR teams seeking to sponsor new hires before the salary threshold and going rate increases.
Skilled Workers already on the immigration route will be able to extend, change sponsor and settle without needing to meet a new £38,700 minimum salary threshold requirement.
However they would “need to meet the updated 25th percentiles using the latest pay data” when they make their next applications. In other words, the current £26,200 threshold will progress at the same rate as resident workers’ earnings may rise rather than leaping up to £38,700 (which is the 50th percentile of earnings for jobs at the skill level of RQF3).
Health and Care visa occupations and national pay scale occupations in education will be exempted from the changes to the Skilled Worker threshold, but will still need to meet the going rate as normal.
Shortage Occupations List review
The Home Secretary has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to undertake a review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) which cuts the expense for employers sponsoring Skilled Workers to fill dire skills shortages. It will be relaunch as the “Immigration Salary List” (ISL) in April. The current SOL will remain in place until April when employers will no longer be able to sponsor migrant workers in shortage occupations on the list at 20% below the usual “going rates” as published by the Government.
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 ISL includes enough shortage occupations and the minimum salary threshold for shortage occupations stays below the £38,700 Skilled Workers will have to be paid, this should still help recruit staff to fill shortages where going rates of pay are much lower than £38,700.
However, the Home Secretary’s letter commissioning this review has made it clear that any roles on the new list must be skilled and “no sector should be permanently reliant on immigration and roles should not remain on the ISL forever. Part of the consideration for adding a role to the ISL should be whether the sector has a realistic and sustainable strategy for what happens when it is removed in future.” This would suggest an onus on sectors of the economy to have a demonstrable longterm strategy to mitigate skills shortages which in some cases have become entrenched over many years, or may have arisen since the end of freedom of movement reduced the pool of candidates.
Unhelpfully, the Migration Advisory Committee have confirmed that they have no time to consult with sectors that will be hit by scrapping the Shortage Occupation List before their review is due on 23 February 2024. According to the committee, a “rapid review” will draw on stakeholder consultation from last year’s review of the SOL, with a fuller review later this year after the new list has been launched, involving engagement with stakeholders and a call for evidence.
At present the only work asylum seekers may do – and only if they have been waiting over 12 months for a decision through no fault of their own – are jobs on the SOL. With tens of thousands of asylum seekers and their dependants stuck in limbo, last year’s review of the SOL recommended allowing them to fill any job vacancies, or at the very least, any skilled role if the SOL is scrapped. However, despite the big windfall for the UK economy that would represent, there is already pressure building up from the more anti-immigration voices in the Conservative Party to deny asylum seekers the ability to work at all. It will be interesting to see what the committee recommends this time round and whether the Government takes its full advice.
The Government (with a lot of caveats) has estimated that all the above changes to the cost of sponsoring workers would have deterred about 13% of those granted a Skilled Worker visa this year. There is no estimate of the cost to businesses, funnily enough.
Carers and senior carers
Overseas care workers will be stopped from bringing dependent family members and social care firms who wish to sponsor care worker visas will need to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). These changes will occur “as soon as possible” this year.
Care workers (sponsored in an occupation classified by the Government as SOC code 6145) and senior care workers (SOC code 6146) already on this immigration route will still be able to bring dependants to Britain and remain with their dependants, including when extending their visa, changing employer (within these SOC codes) and applying to settle in the UK.
Individuals who are in the UK on any other immigration route, including where that route permits dependants, who switch into the care visa as a care worker or senior care worker after this date, will not be able to stay with (or bring over) their dependants.
Care providers who were sponsoring workers in exclusively non-regulated activities (and therefore not required to be registered with the CQC) before the rules change should be able to continue to sponsor these workers, including for extensions to their visa on those terms. But they will not be able to sponsor new ones.
Graduate route review
The Home Secretary also announced that following the prevention of non-research postgraduates from bringing family to the UK, the Graduate visa route which allows international graduates to live and work in the UK for two years (three for people completing doctoral courses) will be reviewed. The Home Secretary has said he will set out the full parameters of a Migration Advisory Committee review of the Graduate visa route “to ensure it works in the best interests of the UK and to ensure steps are being taken to prevent abuse.” The Government expects that the review will continue until late 2024. The Graduate visa is very useful for employers who want to employ international students after they finish their UK degrees without the commitments or bureaucracy of sponsoring them and the higher education sector regards it an attractive prospect for ambitious international students who may want a springboard to a work immigration route to stay in the UK.
Family visa minimum income requirements
The Home Secretary had said that the minimum income British and settled workers must earn to sponsor a partner on a family visa would double from £18,600 to £38,700 in the spring. In spring 2024 the minimum income requirement will now be raised to £29,000 (the 25th percentile of earnings for jobs at the skill level of RQF3), moving to the 40th percentile (currently £34,500) – according to Home Office ministers, and finally the 50th percentile (currently £38,700). The Home Office gave no dates for the further increases, leading many to speculate that these have been kicked into the long grass, but the Prime Minister reacted by forcefully insisting that the £38,700 threshold (or whatever is the 50th percentile at that time) would come into force in “early 2025,” which is now the government line. (Though of course with an election due this year, we may well have a different government with different priorities by then.)
There will no longer be a separate child element to the minimum income requirement.
Those who already have a family visa on the five-year partner route, or who apply before the minimum income requirement is raised, will continue to have their applications assessed against the current income requirement of £18,600 and will not need to meet the increased threshold. This will also be the case for children seeking to join or accompany parents who already have permission (or apply for permission) before the rules change.
Reassuring those who had already planned to get married, anyone granted a fiance visa before the minimum income requirement is raised will still be assessed against the current income requirement when they come to apply for a family visa in the five-year partner route.
Those already in the UK on a different route who apply to switch into the five-year partner route after the minimum income requirement has been increased, however, will be subject to the new income requirement.
The Government does envisage challenges under Article 8 (the right to a private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, resulting in permissions granted, which it says means the number of migrants deterred may be in the low tens of thousands in an estimated immigration impact statement published last month. The Government insists that applicants will still be able to use savings to meet the minimum income requirement as they can now. The cash savings of an applicant, an applicant’s sponsor, or combined savings from both, may be used towards the minimum income requirement, but the sum is high – currently a couple would need £62,500 in cash savings to be granted a two-and-a-half-year visa for a partner with no children. (NB: this is based on the current threshold of £18,600 so the new cash savings requirement could be higher, although the Government says that no additional income will be required for children under the new rules.) The Government also says that exceptional circumstances will be considered where income requirements cannot be met.
An admission that “an estimated range of between 10,000 to 30,000 people who may otherwise have qualified via the family route would be unable to do so, on the basis of earnings alone” in the Government’s statement is pretty chilling. At £29,000, all else being constant, the statement adds that only “around 50 to 60% of the UK working population could meet the threshold based on earnings alone.”
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 friendly UK immigration experts contact us on 0207 033 9527 or at email@example.com for a free initial consultation.
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