Government announces updates to immigration routes

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On Monday 4 December, the home secretary announced a five-point plan which aims to reduce net migration to the UK by 300,000 people each year. It follows the government’s announcement that an increase to the immigration health surcharge is to take effect from January 2024.

This article details the changes that are due to take effect from spring 2024, although a date has not yet been announced.

Higher salary threshold for skilled workers

The current minimum salary for skilled workers is £26,200, subject to the ‘going rate’ for the role the worker is in, and whether any other concessions apply. The government has announced that this minimum salary will increase by almost 50%, to £38,700. 

Once this takes effect, employers will be required to pay migrant workers the higher of the going rate for the job they are doing, or the new threshold. Only approximately 6% of roles currently eligible for skilled worker sponsorship have a going rate salary above the proposed £38,700 threshold, which shows how much of an impact this change will have on both sponsors and sponsored workers themselves. 

The government has not yet announced whether the higher salary threshold (once implemented) will apply to people already on the skilled worker visa route prior to the changes being introduced. 

Stricter rules for overseas care workers

Those coming to the UK on a health and care worker visa will be exempt from the increase to the salary threshold detailed above. Those on national pay scales, for example teachers, will also be exempt.

However, the government will tighten the rules for those on health and care worker visas by no longer permitting care workers to bring dependant family members to the UK. In addition, care providers in England will need to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in order to sponsor overseas care workers.

Removal of 20% salary discount for shortage occupations

In an effort to further reduce employers’ reliance on overseas workers, the government has announced that the 20% ‘going rate’ salary discount for roles on the shortage occupation list will be removed. All workers will therefore be expected to earn the minimum going rate for their job. 

The government has announced that they intend to replace the current shortage occupation list with a new immigration salary list, with a reduced number of occupations on the list. 

Review of the graduate visa route

The graduate route currently allows international graduates of UK universities to stay and work in the UK for a further two years following completion of their studies. Although there have not yet been any announced changes to this route, the government has announced that it will be asking the Migration Advisory Committee to review this route, to ensure it works in the best interests of the UK and to ensure steps are being taken to prevent abuse.

Increased income requirement for family visas

The current minimum income requirement for spouse visas is £18,600, and the government has announced that this will be more than doubled, increasing to £38,700. This change will mean British citizens and those settled in the UK will face greater challenges if they want their family members to join them, given the significant increase in the income they will be required to evidence. 

Practical steps employers can take 

The government’s five-point plan is set to make bringing in migrant workers from overseas more difficult for employers, and to significantly restrict employers from sponsoring migrant workers in roles which currently are eligible but that will not meet the revised minimum salary requirements.

Although the government has to date released limited information regarding the implementation of these changes, there are practical steps that employers can be taking at this stage in anticipation of further information being published.  

In light of the announcements, we recommend that employers consider their future business planning, and if there are individuals that the business is looking to sponsor in the near future, to consider doing so before the changes outlined above are implemented in spring 2024. This could include individuals currently working on other visa routes, e.g. student or graduate visas. 

Steps for the longer term

We would recommend that employers review the roles that they currently sponsor individuals in, or have intended to sponsor individuals in, to consider whether they will still be eligible for sponsorship following the introduction of the announced changes, in particular the increased salary requirement. 

Additionally, it will be important for employers to assess how these changes will affect their proposed budgets for the upcoming year. Employers may also want to consider how they can provide additional support and advice to employees settled in the UK that want their families to join them under a family visa route.

For further information or advice on any business immigration matters, please contact a member of our immigration team.

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