On 4th December 2023, the Home Secretary made a statement to the House of Commons on legal migration in what he called a new 'five-point plan'. This statement laid out a series of measures the Government intend to introduce to reduce net migration to the UK. These changes will be in addition to the already legislated changes in the rise of the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) and changes for student dependants which will come into force in January 2024.
When will the new changes be implemented?
The Government has announced that these changes will be implemented in Spring 2024. No specific dates have been confirmed, but we can predict that this will be between March 2024 to June 2024.
What are the changes?
The new 'five-point plan' consists of the following:
1) Increasing the general Skilled Worker salary threshold from £26,200 to £38,700
This is a huge increase on salaries as it is above the current gross median earnings for full-time employees in the UK. It is also an increase of almost 50% above the current threshold. Whilst this will almost certainly reduce net migration, it will have an economic and social cost to the UK.
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 RQF) will continue to qualify. In addition, some occupations will be priced out, including workers in the construction, hospitality, retail, food processing and production industries, as these industries will struggle to accommodate a minimum salary level of £38,700 per annum.
The Government have confirmed that this will not affect applications in the Health and Care visa route. The Government is however yet to confirm whether this is relevant to 'new entrants' and whether the new minimum salary threshold applies to people extending their Skilled Worker visas.
2) Cutting the Shortage Occupation List discount
As recently recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the Shortage Occupation List 20% salary discount will be ended.
At present, employers can pay a discounted going rate (80% of the full rate) or the SOL general threshold of £20,960, whichever is higher, when recruiting for an occupation on the SOL. The MAC consistently made the case to the Government to remove the going rate discount. The going rate is designed to prevent undercutting of resident workers and to prevent exploitation of migrants. The MAC believed that there was no good reason why such protections should be waived when an occupation is experiencing shortage.
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.
3) The MAC is to review the Graduate route
The Graduate visa currently gives an individual permission to stay in the UK for at least 2 years after successfully completing a course in the UK. 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'.
4) Reforms to the Health and Care visa, including care worker dependants
Two main announcements have been made for this route:
- Care homes must be regulated by the Care Quality Commission in an attempt to stop bogus care home businesses from sponsoring care workers following evidence of abuse of the scheme; and
- Care workers under the Health and Care visa will be ineligible to be accompanied by dependants.
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.
5) 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 has not yet been confirmed.
Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)
The Home Office will still go ahead with the planned Immigration Health Surcharge increase which will rise to £1,035 per person per year and the discounted rate will rise to £776, reflecting a 66% increase.
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