- The UK government announced its intention to introduce a five-point plan to reduce net immigration.
- The plan proposes to reform the health and care worker visa, increase the minimum salary threshold for skilled worker visas, replace the shortage occupation list, increase the minimum income requirement for family visas and review the graduate visa route.
- The plan is scheduled to be introduced in spring 2024.
On 4 December 2023, Home Secretary James Cleverly announced significant changes to the UK immigration rules due to record-levels of migration to the United Kingdom. The total fall in net migration due to the proposed package is estimated at 300,000 people per year.
The Proposed Five-Point Plan
1. Reforms to the Health and Care Worker Visa
Dependants will no longer be able to accompany care workers to the United Kingdom under the health and care worker visa. This is a controversial step, as it creates an exception to the normal rule that workers in a settlement route can also bring their families. Carers will unlikely be able to meet the increased family route minimum income threshold (see below at no. 4) due to the low pay that they receive, which creates a risk that those with families will continue to be separated from them even after the worker settles in the United Kingdom.
In addition, care homes will only be able to sponsor migrant workers if they are regulated by the Care Quality Commission. According to a report prepared by the Migration Advisory Committee, since the inclusion of carers on the shortage occupation list in early 2022, there have been increasing reports of high levels of use and evidence that this route has been exploited, therefore this action is intended to stop fake care home business from sponsoring care workers and abusing the sponsorship system.
2. Minimum Salary Threshold for the Skilled Worker Visa to Be Increased
The minimum salary for a skilled worker visa is to be increased from £26,200 to £38,700; this is an increase of almost 50 percent and is also above the current gross median earnings for full-time employees in the United Kingdom. The government hopes the increase will “encourag[e] businesses to look to British talent first and invest in their workforce.” The government also stated that the goal is “to deter employers from over-relying on migration, while bringing salaries in line with the average full-time salary for these types of jobs.”
Those under the health and care visa and workers in occupations on the national pay scale, such as teachers, will be exempt from the increase.
3. Replacement of Shortage Occupation List
The 20 percent salary discount for workers sponsored under shortage occupation roles will be removed and will be replaced with a new Immigration Salary Discount List, which will have new salary thresholds. The government has asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to help advise on and review the current list of occupations on the Shortage Occupation list and also the salary thresholds.
4. Increased minimum income requirement for family visas
The main minimum income for British citizens, or those settled in the United Kingdom who wish to have their family join them, has more than doubled. According to a UK Parliament research briefing on the Home Office plan, the minimum income requirement for spouse/partner visas is currently £18,600; this will increase to £38,700.
The increase to the income requirement to sponsor dependant children is yet to be confirmed.
5. Graduate Visa Route to Be Reviewed
The government requested that MAC also review 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 five-point plan sits in line with the other changes to immigration that have come in or are due to come in as follows:
- From 1 January 2024, unless students are studying for a Ph.D., they will no longer be able to sponsor dependants.
- The Home Office increased fees on 4 October 2023.
- The Immigration Health Surcharge is due to increase on 16 January 2024 from £624 per year to £1,035 per year.
Carrie-Ann Hosker is an immigration manager in the London office of Ogletree Deakins.