On 4 December 2023, the Home Office announced a multi-faceted five-point strategy to recalibrate and regulate migration levels within the UK. This proactive approach aims to address prevalent issues such as the high number of dependants coming to the UK, increase the minimum salaries that migrant workers and British or settled people sponsoring family members must earn and curb exploitative practices, ensuring a more sustainable and controlled influx of individuals across various visa categories. We discuss the recent measures announced in this post.
These changes will mean around 300,000 people who came to the UK last year will now not be able to come. The government’s actions stem from prioritizing our domestic workforce via the Back to Work Plan. This employment-focused support, building on a previous £7 billion initiative, aims to assist 1,100,000 people dealing with health conditions, disabilities, or long-term unemployment in finding and keeping jobs.
Workers and their dependants account for some of the highest proportion of visas being issued, with Skilled Worker and Health and Care Worker visas accounting for 63% of work grants, and the proportion of work-related visas being granted to dependants rising to 43% in the year ending September 2023.
Tougher Regulations for Health and Care Workers
The initial focal point of the strategy revolves around rectifying the misuse of health and care visas. To achieve this, stringent measures will be implemented, such as disallowing overseas care workers from bringing their family dependents into the country. Additionally, care firms seeking to sponsor visas will need to comply with regulations set by the Care Quality Commission. Those coming on health and social care visa routes will continue to be exempt from the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge.
Elevated Salary Threshold for Skilled Worker Visas
The strategy includes a nearly 50% elevation in the salary threshold for skilled workers, set at £38,700 (from £26,200 per year). This adjustment aims to safeguard against situations where immigration might undercut the earnings of local British workers, ensuring equitable compensation across the board.
Elimination of Salary Discounts for Shortage Occupations
Addressing the issue of cut-price labour from overseas, the plan involves eliminating the 20% salary discount for occupations facing shortages and redefining the shortage occupations list. This meticulous review by the Migration Advisory Committee will lead to the creation of a more streamlined Immigration Salary List that aligns with the increased salary thresholds to reduce the number of occupations on the list, aiming for a more balanced representation of occupations in need.
Enhanced Financial Requirements for Partner Visas
Striving for financial stability within families, the strategy dictates an increase in the minimum income requirement for family visas to £38,700, mirroring the threshold set for skilled workers. This step intends to ensure that individuals can adequately support their dependents without burdening public resources. The minimum income requirement is currently £18,600 and has not been increased since 2012.
Review of Graduate Visa Route
The Migration Advisory Committee’s review of the graduate route is geared towards safeguarding the integrity and quality of the UK’s higher education sector. This scrutiny aims to prevent misuse while facilitating access to high-quality job opportunities for global talent pools.
These measures build on the tough action already taken to tackle the substantial rise in students bringing dependants to the UK, which will come into force in the new year. This change is expected to have a tangible impact on net migration, with around 153,000 visas granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending September 2023.
Impact on UK Businesses
Anticipated to result in the most significant reduction in net migration on record—potentially around 300,000 fewer arrivals per year—the strategy foresees substantial effects on international students and their accompanying dependants. Concurrently, increased immigration fees announced on 4 October 2023, and the Immigration Health Surcharge surge from £624 to £1,035 per year for most migrants starting January 2024 could have notable repercussions.
Businesses, especially those in lower-wage industries, might encounter challenges in recruiting migrant workers, while the already stretched healthcare sector could experience further constraints. This shift in policy might pose challenges to the long-term growth trajectory of the UK, a concern highlighted by experts.
The Home Office’s comprehensive five-point strategy reflects a concerted effort to restructure immigration policies, aiming for greater control and fairness in regulating migration levels. While intended to rectify existing loopholes, these measures signify a paradigm shift in immigration dynamics, necessitating adaptability and proactive measures from stakeholders and affected businesses to navigate the evolving landscape effectively.
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