Government announces five-point plan to cut migration figures to the UK

At a glance:

  • Minimum salary threshold for Skilled Workers set to increase from GBP26,200 to GBP38,700 per annum (a third) from Spring 2024.
  • The 20% reduction which can currently be applied to a role’s ‘going rate’ salary threshold for occupations that appear on the shortage list will be removed.
  • Care workers sponsored under the Health & Care visa category will be prevented from bringing their dependants to the UK and care providers in England are to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission.
  • The requisite income level for British nationals and those settled in the UK who wish to sponsor their foreign partner or children to join them in the UK to increase by more than 100%, rising from GBP18,600 to GBP38,700 in Spring 2024. This could potentially raise the savings threshold to in excess of GBP112,000.
  • The Migration Advisory Committee has been asked to review the graduate visa routes currently in place to prevent purported abuse and to protect the integrity and quality of the UK’s Higher Education sector.

On 4 December 2023, James Cleverly MP revealed the UK government’s five-point plan to reduce migration figures and ‘curb abuse’ of the legal migration system. Under this plan, the government intends to cut migration to the UK by 300,000 per year. This announcement followed the publication of official data which highlighted a net legal migration figure of 745,000 in 2022.

These measures are in addition to the previously announced changes set to come into force in January 2024 removing the right for international students to bring their dependants to the UK, unless they are studying on a post graduate course designated as a research programme, and preventing overseas students from switching into work visa routes before they have completed the course for which they have originally entered the UK to study.

But how will these changes impact UK businesses who sponsor overseas nationals to work for them in the UK?

Increase to minimum salary threshold

In his Ministerial Statement, James Cleverly made clear that the government’s aim, through increasing the Skilled Worker general salary threshold, is to stop immigration undercutting the salaries of British workers.

The increase from GBP26,200 to GBP38,700 per annum, said to be in line with the median full-time salary wage for ‘those kinds of roles’, does not take into account varying salary levels across different regions in the UK, nor the skills level of the roles these increases will be applied to. This will significantly impact the ability of employers in regional areas with a lower median average wage to fill gaps in their workforce by sponsoring a foreign worker.

Whilst this threshold will not be applied to Health & Care visa routes, no reference was made to roles which fall within the education or hospitality and tourism sectors. Initial responses from businesses have been far from positive, with industry organisations predicting that the shortages in their relevant sectors will worsen.

The increase will further disqualify many of the lower-level roles, only added to the eligible occupation list in December 2020, from sponsorship unless employers are willing to pay salaries in excess of the average median wage for those positions.

Shortage Occupations List

The 20% ‘going rate’ salary reduction for roles on the Shortage Occupation list will be scrapped and the list itself is to be reformed.

A new Immigration Salary List, with a reduced number of shortage occupations, is to be created in co-ordination with the Migration Advisory Committee. It is, however, unclear how this new list will benefit businesses unless the roles included on this list are also exempt from the new minimum salary threshold, as those in the Health & Care sector will be.

Additionally, occupations which were taken off the list as a result of the skills threshold being lowered in December 2020 (eg chefs), may need to be re-added to the list where the median salary for those roles is clearly below the GBP38,700 threshold.

Care workers

Care workers under the Health & Care visa will now be prevented from bringing their dependants with them to the UK.

The change is intended to reduce the number of visas granted to dependants, many of whom the government claim will use public services but not work. Whilst during the House of Commons discussion James Cleverly indicated that those already in the UK will not be disadvantaged, this change has already proven to be controversial, with many in the industry voicing concerns that the restriction on dependants will cause irrevocable harm to the care sector.

The government does not, in turn, share this concern, citing its belief that overseas care workers who are single will still wish to seek employment in the UK. Additionally, it believes its plan to build up the domestic work force, by supporting UK residents getting back to work, will level out any shortfall in potential care workers with families who decide not to come to the UK as a result of this change.

Takeaways for employers

The package of new measures is anticipated to be implemented in Spring 2024. We await further detail on exactly how these changes will be implemented and whether any further exemptions or allowances will be introduced on a sector specific basis.

In the meantime, however, this announcement may leave many employers concerned about the gaps in their workforce and the increasing costs of employing foreign workers to address this.

The increased minimum salary threshold is only one of the four changes to the costs of sponsorship, with the application fees having been increased in October 2023 as well as the Immigration Health Surcharge being set to increase by 66% and potential civil penalty fines due to triple early next year.

Employers may therefore wish to review their current business needs and bring forward any visa application timelines to reduce the immediate impact of these changes.

If you have any queries in relation to these proposed changes, or in relation to your UK immigration-related obligations generally, our immigration team would be please to discuss these with you.

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