UK Government announces significant immigration changes for 2024
The announcement comes following the Office of National Statistics recently publishing figures that net migration added 672,000 people in the year ending June 2023. In addition, the net migration figure for the year ending December 2022 was revised to 745,000, which was much higher than previously predicted. This has placed political pressure on the Government to reduce this figure, given anticipated elections in 2024; the current announcements aim to address this.
The increase to net migration was fuelled in part by an increase in overseas professionals coming to work within health and social care, students, new schemes that were opened up for humanitarian reasons such as the British Nationals (Overseas) scheme for those arriving from Hong Kong and the Ukraine schemes.
These changes follow changes announced earlier this year that also aimed to address the net migration figures, including the restrictions on most students bringing dependants: that change alone could slash around 153,000 from the net migration figure, as that is the number of student dependant visas granted in the year ending September 2023.
The newly-announced changes
These have been split up into five areas. Altogether, these changes would mean around 300,000 people that came to the UK last year would not be able to come.
The Government intends to raise the general threshold salary for the Skilled Worker route to £38,700. This is an almost 50% increase compared to the current level of £26,200. The Government has stated the new minimum is in line with the median full-time salary for jobs of the same level.
In addition, the minimum salaries for specific occupations, which also has to be met, will be raised accordingly. These vary by occupation code and can sometimes be higher or lower than the general threshold salary. The exact figures for these are yet to be confirmed.
The minimum salary will not be increased for roles subject to a national pay scale, such as teachers, and it will not apply to those coming on the Health and Care visa route. Reduced thresholds for those deemed as new entrants or switching from student visas will continue, albeit it is yet to be confirmed if these will remain at their current levels or also increase in line with the general threshold.
The minimum income threshold for a UK-based individual to earn in order to sponsor family will also be raised to £38,700.
This is a substantial increase from the current minimum of £18,600, which has remained in place since 2012 when the family-based visa route was last overhauled. In practical terms, the new increase will mean the UK-based person (including British nationals) wishing to sponsor a partner must demonstrate a gross annual income of at least £38,700, or hold cash savings of at least £112,750 to be eligible (this assumes the current method by which minimum cash savings are calculated remains the same).
It is important to note that family-based applications also trigger a human rights claim, as refusing the application can be a breach of the person’s right to a family life. For this reason, the current exceptions for the income requirement will remain the same.
As this visa route has contributed significantly to the high net migration, it is no surprise this is being restricted. Care providers will now only be able to sponsor a visa if the work undertaken is regulated by the Care Quality Commission. In addition, individuals under this visa will not be able to bring dependants with them, presumably reducing the attractivity of the visa. This could cut up to 120,000 from the net migration figures, which is the number of dependant visas granted under this route in the year ending September 2023.
Unions and charities have already warned these changes would spell disaster for the NHS and social care, since it would reduce the number of workers, and therefore leave the public without the appropriate care and support. The Home Secretary has stated that the addition of carers in the UK’s immigration system was a temporary measure to respond to shortages in the adult social care sector following the pandemic, and that the new measures will address concerns that the route has been subject to high levels of non-compliance, worker exploitation and abuse.
The shortage occupation list is comprised of occupations where there is a shortage of local labour in the UK. Applications for jobs on this list normally entail reduced Government fees and a reduced minimum salary.
The shortage occupation list will be replaced with a new Immigration Salary Discount List. This would end the current 20% salary reduction for roles on the shortage list. However, we understand the general threshold will remain lower for roles on the new list. In addition, the Home Secretary will ask the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), an independent public body, to review the roles on this list in line with the increased salary threshold to ensure it is still fit for purpose.
Finally, the Home Secretary has also announced that the MAC will be commissioned to review the current Graduate visa route, which is effectively a post-study work visa for students, in order to prevent abuse. The outcome of this review may result in changes to this route in the future.
When do these changes take place?
It is unclear exactly when these changes will come into force but the Government has stated the intention is from spring 2024. This likely means new legislation will be laid before parliament for review around February 2024.
A big question mark remains on how these changes will apply to those already on these routes or applying before the changes.
The Government has been clear that they will not be removing anyone from the UK who was entitled for their visa at the point it was granted.
The Home Office also normally avoid applying such changes retroactively, meaning that those that entered the UK under one set of requirements can normally continue to meet the same requirements until they obtain settlement. While this is the norm, the Home Office has not confirmed whether this will apply here or whether they may require applicants to meet the new requirements for a subsequent renewal or settlement application. There is precedent for the latter.
Depending on the exact transitional arrangements in place, employers may find it beneficial to apply for longer visas to avoid a renewal with more restrictive requirements, where possible.
We will continue to share updates once the nuances of these changes are released in due course.