On 04 December 2023, the House of Commons was addressed by the Home Secretary, outlining the new immigration strategies likely to be implemented in Spring 2024. The new immigration policies, aimed at curbing abuse of the UK immigration system, will affect existing and new visa applicants. The intention for bringing in these changes is to cut net migration into the UK.
The UK has observed a remarkable surge in immigration numbers during the post-pandemic years, with the latest statistics reflecting a net migration of 672,000 in the year leading up to June 2023. Notably, this figure is higher than the pre-pandemic records yet lower than the 745,000 individuals who immigrated in the year ending December 2022.
Over the previous year, the UK has welcomed over 80,000 immigrants through its Ukraine, BN(O), and resettlement initiatives. Concurrently, there has been a surge in the influx of international students and healthcare workers.
To manage the escalation in lawful immigration, the government implemented several strategies. In May 2023, new policies were announced to deal with the considerable increase in students introducing their dependants while studying in the UK. These strategies will be enforced starting January 2024 and are predicted to have a measurable influence on net migration figures.
Nevertheless, the rates of authorised migration persist at elevated levels. To address this, on December 4, 2023, the Prime Minister and Home Secretary unveiled a strategy intending to significantly reduce migration levels and mitigate the exploitation of the immigration system. This plan is expected to reduce approximately 300,000 immigrants, who, under last year’s laws, would have been granted entry into the UK.
Who will it affect?
These new changes will most likely affect the following:
- British-settled people and their non-British partners and dependants since the minimum income requirement for a family visa might increase to £38,700 from £18,600.
- UK businesses that hire workers from overseas. The minimum salary threshold for skilled worker visa holders has risen to £38,700 from £26,200, which is nearly a 50% jump.
- Dependants of students pursuing education (undergraduate, master’s or PhD) in the UK.
- Dependants and partners of health and care workers. Last year 1,20,000 dependants came with health and care workers but now the new policy will ban the care and home workers from bringing their partners or dependants.
- Students coming to the UK for a master’s degree might not get the opportunity for a graduate visa, or the visa route may have other restrictions implemented or be reduced to a shorter period from the usual 2 years.
Key strategies to reduce net migration:
- Prohibit overseas care workers from bringing family dependents and mandating social care enterprises in England to obtain Care Quality Commission registration to sponsor visas. This change will affect the 120,000 dependants who arrived via this path last year.
- Raising the income threshold for overseas workers by almost 50%, from £26,200 to £38,700. This measure is aimed at motivating businesses to prioritise UK talent and invest in their workforce. By doing so, it seeks to deter over-reliance on migration and align salaries with the average full-time earnings in these job types. The government also plans to increase the minimum income required for UK citizens and settled individuals who wish to bring their family members to the UK.
- Transforming the Shortage Occupation List into an Immigration Salary List. This move will put an end to the 20% salary discount for shortage occupations. Additionally, the Migration Advisory Committee – an independent expert panel advising the government on immigration policy – will be asked to examine the list’s composition in light of the increased salary thresholds.
- Increase the minimum income requirement for family visas to £38,700, aligning it with the minimum salary threshold for the skilled worker route.
- Requesting the Migration Advisory Committee to evaluate the graduate scheme to ensure it is beneficial to the UK and to verify that measures are in place to prevent exploitation.
After the announcement was made on 04 December 2023, the government published a factsheet with more details.
The government’s plan for care workers
The government is implementing a robust package to support the social care workforce alongside its immigration measures. This includes an investment of at least £500 million between 2022/23 and 2024/25 and an allocation of up to £7.5 billion over two years from the Autumn Statement 2022 to enhance social care capacity. As a result of these efforts, the social care workforce has grown by 1%, and job vacancies have reduced by 7%, indicating greater capacity in the sector compared to the previous year.
Additionally, nearly £2 billion will be invested over two years through the Market Sustainability and Improvement Funds to assist local councils in supporting the workforce, recognising the importance of retention. The government expects that increasing the training of nurses, Allied Health Professionals, and nursing associates will partially relieve pressure in the adult social care sector, as some of these trained individuals are likely to choose employment in social care.
Individuals arriving via the Health and Social Care visa route will enjoy an exemption to ensure the continued inflow of healthcare professionals that are critically needed by the care sector and NHS. Education workers associated with national pay scale occupations will also be given an exemption. This measure emphasises the need to prioritise and safeguard critical sectors amidst new immigration regulations.
What about the graduate route?
The government has requested the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to evaluate the graduate route, ensuring it aligns with the best interests of the UK and serves to uphold the high standards and integrity of UK higher education while preventing misuse.
While there could be queries about abolishing the graduate route, the government firmly believes that the UK should continue to welcome the best and brightest talent. As evidence of this commitment, over 100,000 visas for the graduate route were issued in the year ending September 2023.
The MAC’s review of the graduate route aims not only to prevent exploitation but also to maintain the quality of UK higher education. It must support high-quality job pathways for global talent while minimising abuse opportunities.
The MAC will announce the timeline for its review of the graduate route at an appropriate time.
There are changes to be made in the Shortage Occupation List
The government plans to transform the Shortage Occupation List into an Immigration Salary List (ISL). This includes terminating the 20% going rate salary discount for shortage occupations, in line with the independent Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendation. The Committee will also be commissioned to advise on establishing the new Immigration Salary List and consider if a general discount should be maintained in light of the new salary thresholds.
While there are questions about abolishing the Shortage Occupation List altogether, the government concurs with the Migration Advisory Committee’s suggestion to replace it with the new ISL. The Committee will be tasked to review the list’s composition, particularly identifying areas where UK workers cannot address short-term workforce shortages.
The complete abolition of the Shortage Occupation List would pose challenges to employers in filling these roles, considering that UK unemployment is deficient and the average salary for these occupations does not meet the international recruitment salary threshold.
The increase in skilled worker salaries and changes in dependants
The government intends to augment the earnings thresholds for candidates arriving through the Skilled Worker route. Consequently, the minimum threshold will see a 48% increment, rising from £26,200 to £38,700, effective from spring 2024.
Simultaneously, those arriving through the Health and Social Care visa route will receive an exemption. This exemption is geared towards ensuring a consistent flow of necessary healthcare workers for the care sector and the NHS. Similarly, educational workers engaged in national pay scale occupations will also be exempted.
Employers will maintain the ability to hire workers from abroad in these sectors. However, it is justified to raise the salary threshold to match the median earnings. This adjustment is aimed at ensuring the protection of UK workers from being undercut by less expensive foreign labour and preventing potential wage deflation.
Beyond the confines of the immigration system exists the resident labour market, encompassing UK workers and immigrants with standard work rights. They all have the freedom to work without any governmental restrictions.
What happens to people who want to renew their visas?
These latest regulations will not be enforced retroactively, and until modifications are made to the immigration rules, the minimum income threshold will remain unchanged. We are currently defining the finer details of this policy, including its application to those renewing visas. More comprehensive information will be provided in due time.
Update from Home Office as of 21st December 2023
The Home Office announced some information to clarify the new immigration changes which they announced earlier.
Changes for Carers and Senior Carers- to be introduced as soon as possible in 2024
- Care workers (SOC code 6145) and senior care workers (SOC code 6146) currently in the UK can remain along with their dependents. They have the flexibility to extend their stay, change employers within these SOC codes, and settle in the UK.
- If care workers or senior care workers were already in the UK before the Immigration Rules changed and have not yet brought their dependents, they will be permitted to bring their dependents while on this visa.
- However, individuals already in the UK on any other type of visa, where that visa permits dependants, will not be able to stay with or bring their dependants if they switch to the care visa as a care worker or senior care worker after this rule change.
- Care providers sponsoring workers engaged exclusively in non-regulated activities (not required to be registered with the CQC) prior to the rule change will still be able to continue sponsoring these workers. This includes sponsoring extensions to the workers’ visas under the existing terms, but these providers will not be able to hire new workers under these conditions.
Salary Thresholds- will come into effect from April 2024
Individuals already on the Skilled Worker route prior to the rule changes will be exempt from the new salary levels when applying for changing sponsors, extensions, or settling in the UK. The UKVI expects the pay to progress at the same rate as resident workers; therefore, on the next application for employment change, extension, or settlement, they’ll be subject to updated 25th percentiles based on the latest pay data.
Immigration Salary List (ISL)- MAC commission in January 2024
The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) will be revamped as the Immigration Salary List, with advisory from the MAC determining which existing occupations adhere to the new salary thresholds. Until these new thresholds are enacted in late spring, the current SOL will be maintained.
Family Immigration Minimum Income
- Individuals with a pre-existing family visa within the five-year partner route or who apply before the minimum income threshold increase will be evaluated against the current income requirement without having to meet the higher threshold. This also applies to children joining or accompanying parents.
- Fiancé visa holders granted their visa before the minimum income threshold increase will be evaluated against the current income requirement when applying for a family visa within the five-year partner route.
- Individuals already in the UK on different routes who apply to transition into the five-year partner route after the minimum income requirement increase will need to meet the new income requirement.
- The minimum income requirement for family visas will be raised incrementally to provide predictability for families. In Spring 2024, the threshold will be increased to £29,000, aligning with the 25th percentile of earnings for jobs at the skill level of RQF3. Subsequently, the income requirement will be raised to the 40th percentile, currently standing at £34,500. Finally, the requirement will match the 50th percentile of earnings, currently at £38,700, which is also the threshold set for the General Skilled Worker.
- There will no longer be a separate child element to the minimum income requirement. This is to ensure that British nationals are not treated less favourably than migrants who must meet the General Skilled Worker threshold at a flat rate, irrespective of any children being sponsored.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated that the minimum income requirement will undergo a phased increase to reach the full amount of £38,700 by early 2025. This progression will take place in two stages, with a few months’ interval between each stage until the full amount is achieved.
The MAC will review the visa route to ensure it serves the UK’s best interests and maintains the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system. This review process is expected to continue until late 2024.
30/01/2024 Update: Key Dates announced for new immigration rules:
The Home Secretary has announced the dates for implementation of the changes announced earlier. The first of these changes are set to be introduced as early as March. Based on these new regulations, an estimated 300,000 people who migrated to the UK last year would now not qualify to enter under the new system.
Here are the key dates and associated changes:
- 11 March: Introduction of reforms restricting care workers from bringing dependants and compelling care providers to register with the Care Quality Commission if sponsoring migrants.
- 14 March: Implementation of new Immigration Rules, including the removal of the 20% going rate discount for occupations on the Shortage Occupation List.
- 4 April: Increase in the minimum salary required for those applying under the Skilled Worker visa, rising from £26,200 to £38,700.
- From 11 April: Gradual increase of the minimum income requirement threshold for family visas, beginning at £29,000.
- Until the Immigration Rules are amended, the current thresholds and policies stay in place.
- Full details of transitional provisions will be announced soon.
- Changes to visa routes will provide clarity for those currently in the UK and are subject to change.
How can City Legal Solicitors help you with UK Immigration?
For guidance and support concerning your UK visa application, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our immigration solicitors at 02081754000. Alternatively, you can email us at email@example.com. We’re here to help you navigate through this process efficiently.