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What employers and employees need to know about UK measures to cut immigration

London River Thames Tower Bridge

18 December 2023

Governments of developed economies across the world are balancing measures to ease skills shortages with reactions to migration bouncing back after the pandemic. In Britain the latter appears to be taking priority for a government promising to cut a record level of net migration (745,000 in 2022) by 300,000 fewer arrivals.

The United Kingdom’s new Home Secretary James Cleverly has unveiled a “five-point plan” aimed at reducing legal net migration to Britain from next year.

If anyone has upcoming UK immigration applications that may be affected, I advise ensuring these are made as soon as is practically possible. We do not have a date for these changes, but most are planned for the spring – which usually means March / April for UK immigration changes. A 67 per cent increase in the Immigration Health Surcharge (the mandatory charge most migrants pay to use the National Health Service) is also planned for the start of the year.

Salary threshold for sponsoring Skilled Worker raised

The UK’s most-used work immigration route for employees or contractors is to be be sponsored on Skilled Worker visas. They must be paid whichever is the highest amount of the Skilled Worker visa salary threshold, whatever the UK Government determine is “the going rate” for the occupation they are employed in, or (in most cases) an hourly rate of £10.75.

The Home Secretary announced that the minimum salary threshold needed for a Skilled Worker visa will 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 followed the Home Secretary’s announcement to Parliament.

James Cleverly insisted that £38,700 is “the median full-term wage for those kinds of jobs.” However, this is set to impact regions of Britain with lower wage rates than the capital more, and some sectors more than others, as this will apply across the range of Skilled Worker visas apart from the examples above and those occupations on the UK government’s Shortage Occupation List.

Shortage Occupation List rebrand

The UK’s Shortage Occupation List is a list of skilled occupations with a short supply of candidates which benefit from immigration concessions. The Government is launching a review of the list, which will be rebranded as the “Immigration Salary List.” There should still be a general salary threshold discount lower than the new main Skilled Worker minimum threshold of £38,700, but with a level yet to be confirmed.

However, the Home Secretary said that from next spring, employers will no longer be able to hire migrant workers at 20 per cent below the going rate for that job as they are currently able to if it is a role on the Shortage Occupation List.

Care workers’ family dependants

From next spring overseas care workers (including senior care workers) will no longer be able to bring family dependants to the UK. Sponsors will also have to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission if they want to sponsor care staff. James Cleverly said the measure was “to end the abuse of the Health and Care visa.”

Graduate visa review

The Home Secretary also announced that following the prevention of non-research postgraduates from bringing family to the UK (announced earlier this year), 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.

Minimum income requirement hike for family visas

The spring change that is making the most headlines is the announcement that the minimum income requirement to bring a dependent partner to the UK on a family visa will almost double from £18,600 to £38,700. Applicants sponsoring family dependants’ visas must show that they have the means to support them. The UK Government insists that people will still be able to use savings as well as income to prove this and that exceptions may be made in some circumstances where people cannot meet the required income level.

More details have been promised soon on whether there will be a similar increase to the minimum income level to bring dependent children to the UK and how those already in the UK renewing family visas after next spring will be affected.

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