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Home Secretary announces latest set of measures to reduce net migration to the UK

Monday 4 December brought about another round of UK immigration increases – this time, the government’s focus has shifted to the minimum salary requirement for various visa routes, including the Skilled Worker visa.

This latest blow was announced by James Cleverly to the House of Commons yesterday, against the backdrop of various measures to reduce net migration in the UK. A quick look at the statistics shows that, in the year ending September 2023, Skilled Worker and Health and Care worker visas (a sub-category of Skilled Worker) accounted for 63% of work grants, and work-related visas granted to dependants rose to 43%. In terms of the numbers, the government has published figures relating to the Health and Care visa, which confirm 101,000 visas were issued to care workers and senior care workers, with an estimated 120,000 to their associated dependants.

Cleverly estimates that with the new measures in place (set out, below) this should reduce overall net migration in the year 2024 by around 300,000.

However, and given that one of the key considerations behind the introduction of the Skilled Worker visa, which currently requires a minimum salary of £26,200 plus the going rate for the role, was to protect certain industries (such as care, construction and hospitality) set to be most adversely impacted by the labour shortage following Brexit, it is somewhat challenging to understand the government’s logic here.

So, lets take a look at the proposed changes, which are set to come into force by Spring 2024:

  • Skilled worker minimum salary change this will increase to £38,700 (from the current £26,200), with a lower salary threshold applicable to health and care workers, which is yet to be announced – again, a confusing omission by the government, on the basis that much of their net migration data looks solely at the care sector.
  • Shortage Occupation List (SOL) the 20% discount applied to minimum salaries for applicants under the SOL will be scrapped. The Home Secretary has further asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to undertake another review of the SOL, in light of the new salary thresholds, with the view of reducing the number of eligible occupations on the SOL.

And, again, this request seems somewhat inconsistent with the findings of MAC’s most recent review of the SOL, in which they found the list either needed to be significantly reformed, or scrapped altogether. You can read about our views on MAC’s recent report, here.

  • Family Visas the minimum salary threshold to sponsor a family member will increase to £38,700 (from the current £18,600 which was set in 2012) in line with the changes to the Skilled Worker threshold. To clarify, this is a non-sponsored route in respect of employment, and it is the UK national / settled spouse who acts as the UK sponsor.
  • Student and Graduate visas the government will ask the MAC to review the Graduate Route to “prevent abuse and protect the integrity and quality of UK Higher Education”.

The Graduate Route is currently used as a non-sponsored stopgap for migrant individuals, to allow them time to source UK employment following the completion of their studies. This route is temporary in nature (maximum of 2 years permitted) and cannot lead to settlement.

  • Health and Care visas sponsored care workers will not be able to bring family dependents to the UK.

Whilst the exact level of increase is yet to be ratified, one thing we can be almost certain of is that the salary requirements for these specified visa routes will increase, by a significant amount, within a relatively short timescale.

As set out above, the increase is likely to impact on certain sectors more so than others; however, it would be prudent for all businesses to consider whether they have any new international hires planned between now and next year. Where the salary is unlikely to meet the threshold increase, then perhaps the onboarding process can be fast tracked to avoid being caught by the incoming measures.

If you would like more specific advice or information about how the proposed changes may impact on you, or your business, please do get in touch with Nicole Hambleton, here.