Government announces legal migration action plan

On the 4th of December, The Home Secretary has announced a package of measures aimed at reducing net migration to the UK, which it says will end the high numbers of dependants coming to the UK; increase the minimum salaries that overseas workers, and British or settled people sponsoring family members must earn; and tackle exploitation across the immigration system.

The package of measures is expected to take effect from next Spring.

The measures are:

  • Skilled Worker salary threshold – The general salary threshold for sponsoring a Skilled Worker will increase from £26,200 to £38,700, with the aim of encouraging businesses to recruit British talent first and invest in their workforce. Those coming on the Health and Care visa route and those on national pay scales, for example teachers, will be exempt from this increase.
  • Family visa applications – The minimum income required to sponsor family applications will also increase to £38,700 (currently £18,600).
  • The Health and Care visa route – This route will be tightened so that overseas care workers will be prevented from bringing their dependants to the UK. In addition, care providers in England will now only be able to sponsor migrant workers if they are undertaking activities regulated by the Care Quality Commission.
  • Salary discount – The 20% salary discount for individuals with occupations on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) will be brought to an end and the SOL will be replaced with a new Immigration Salary List. The Migration Advisory Committee will advise on this in order to reduce the number of occupations on the list, which will have a general threshold discount.
  • Graduate visa route – The Migration Advisory Committee will also be asked to 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.

This new package of changes follows a number of other recent measures aimed at lowering legal migration. From January 2024, international students will no longer have the right to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses designated as research programmes. In addition, the immigration health surcharge will be increased for most applications from £624 to £1,035 per person per year. This will come into force on 16 January 2024, or slightly later.

What does this migration action plan mean for employers?

Of particular significance for employers will be the increase in salary threshold for Skilled Workers. The new threshold is likely to be towards the upper end of the range for many occupations, such as in construction, hospitality, retail and food production. This will undoubtedly make it harder for many employers to recruit staff from overseas, with more senior job roles being impacted than before.

Although care workers will, at least for the time being, remain part of the Health and Care visa route, and also exempt from the new salary threshold, the planned prohibition on bringing dependents to the UK is likely to act as a deterrent for some. Again, this is likely to have a knock on effect on recruitment in the sector.

Next steps

Businesses that are in the process of assessing candidates for sponsorship, should urgently review the salaries on offer. Where the salary falls below the new threshold, if possible, employers should plan to complete the recruitment process before the changes take effect.

Going forward, employers may need to look to alternative recruitment methods to fill gaps in their workforce and it would be sensible to start planning for this now. For example, one option could be to train existing staff to fill roles that do not meet the salary threshold.

As ever, we are on hand to advise on any recruitment and immigration issues you may have. If you are concerned about how the changes will affect your business, please get in touch with our immigration team.

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Calum is an immigration law expert and offers advice to individuals and businesses across a variety of sectors including agriculture, manufacturing and sport.

Calum works with UK businesses to offer solutions to immigration related problems including international recruitment and immigration compliance.

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Published: 4th December 2023
Area: Family & Individual Immigration

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