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UK immigration policies announced to lower net migration

05 December 2023

On 4 December 2023 the UK Government announced a ‘five point plan’ to lower net migration, following on from recent high net migration figures. These include raising the general threshold for Skilled Worker visas, abolishing the salary discount for shortage occupation roles and prohibiting care workers from bringing dependants.

The Government anticipates this plan will build on previously announced restrictions on Student dependants as well as application fee and immigration health surcharge rises. The overall predicted fall in net migration is estimated at 300,000 people per year.

The main reforms included in the announcement are outlined below and are expected to be implemented in Spring 2024.

Point 1: Reforms to Health and Care visa, including care worker dependants

The inclusion of carers amongst the occupations eligible under the Health and Care route was intended to be a temporary post-pandemic measure. However, continuing underinvestment in the sector and an aging population mean that this occupation is likely to remain included in at least the short to medium-term. The Home Office will be monitoring this occupation closely following the high levels of use and evidence of worker exploitation since it was included on the shortage occupation list early last year.

Two main announcements have been made for this route:

  • Care homes will have to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission; and
  • Care workers under the Health and Care visa will be ineligible to be accompanied by dependants.

The first change is aimed at stopping bogus care home businesses from sponsoring care workers, following evidence of abuse of the sponsorship regime.

The second change creates an exception to the ability of workers in settlement routes to be accompanied by their families. It is likely to prove controversial. The low pay carers receive means that those with families will remain separated from them even after the worker settles. This is because they are unlikely to be able to meet the increased family route minimum income threshold announced as point 4 of the plan.

Point 2: Increased general salary threshold for the Skilled Worker route

The general salary threshold for sponsoring a Skilled Worker will be raised from £26,200 to £38,700. This is above the current gross median earnings for full-time employees in the UK, which is £34,963. It is also an increase of almost 50% above the current threshold.

Health and Care visas and occupations on national pay scales (e.g. teachers) will be ‘exempt’ from this increase, however it is not yet clear whether the current threshold of £20,960 will remain in place or be lifted.

The impact of such a substantial increase to the general salary threshold is that only very senior members of many medium-skilled occupations (at Levels 3 to 5 of the Regulated Qualifications Framework) will continue to qualify, and some occupations will be priced out. This is because the new threshold corresponds to the median income for skilled roles in aggregate. It may also be above the upper end of the range for some skilled occupations, including in construction, retail, hospitality, food production and food processing.

Point 3: End to salary discount on Skilled Worker shortage occupations

The 20% salary discount for individuals sponsored under shortage occupation roles will be abolished. This announcement has been expected, following on from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC's) review of the shortage occupation list in October 2023.

The MAC has also been asked to further advise the Home Office on creating a new Immigration Salary List with fewer occupations than at present. This list will have a discounted general salary threshold.

Point 4: Increased minimum income requirement for family applications

The statement also confirms that the main minimum income requirement for sponsoring partners under Appendix FM will rise from £18,600 to £38,700. The additional income requirement to sponsor children is yet to be clarified.

Point 5: Review of the Graduate route

The Home Office will commission the MAC to consider policy options for reforming the Graduate visa route so that it better supports a pathway into high quality jobs for graduates and to ‘prevent abuse’.

Building on immigration measures in the Chancellor’s Autumn statement

The five-point plan aligns with the immigration announcements in the Chancellor’s Autumn statement, which are also geared towards facilitating types of migration that are less likely to add to net migration figures.

These include:

  • Expanding the activities intra-company transferees and legal professionals may carry out as visitors;
  • Simplifying the arrangements for permitted paid engagements visitors;
  • Bringing forward enhanced visitor rules in line with future trade deals; and
  • Expanding the participating countries and places available under the Youth Mobility Scheme.

Aside from visitor changes arising from trade deals (which will appear as these deals are made effective), the reforms mentioned in the Autumn statement are due to be in place from January 2024.

We will be covering these developments and more in our next ‘What’s happening in immigration law’ session on 7 December. For more information and sign-up details, click here. If you are an employer with queries relating to the expected changes, you can also get in touch with a member of our Immigration Team.

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