Shaping Britain's Future: Updates To Skilled Worker And Family Visas

In December 2023, the UK government introduced a five-point plan to reduce net migration. Key changes include raising the minimum salary threshold for Skilled Worker visas and Family visas, revising the Shortage Occupations list, and increasing restrictions on Health and Care visas.
UK Immigration
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In December 2023, the UK government, under Home Secretary James Cleverly, announced a five-point plan aimed at reducing net migration, with significant revisions to visa regulations.

The changes have now come into force, in accordance with two sets of revisions to the Immigration Rules released on 19th February and 14th March.

One significant change is the substantial increase in the minimum salary threshold for Skilled Worker visas, rising from £26,200 to £38,700 per year. This hike, effective as of 4thApril 2024, was aimed to reduce reliance on migrant workers and align salaries with average full-time earnings. Exemptions are made for Skilled Workers in the Health and Care category, who can be paid a reduced salary. Despite this, the government made Health and Care visas more restrictive by prohibiting overseas care workers from bringing their dependants to the UK. Moreover, Cleverly's plan involves an overhaul of the Shortage Occupations list, which has now been replaced with the Immigration Salary List, to curb the use of low-cost foreign labour. The revised list has maintained a general threshold discount, with a focus on higher salary thresholds to decrease the number of occupations included.

Another significant change is the increase in the minimum income requirement for Family visas as of 11th April 2024, rising from £18,600 to £29,000 per year, with further increases planned to reach approximately £38,700 by early 2025. These adjustments aim to ensure that British/Irish/Settled individuals bringing their family members to the UK possess the financial means to support their dependents adequately and decrease reliance on public resources.

Why did the Government decide to make these changes? Will MPs be voting to approve, reject or amend the changes?

MPs are unlikely to vote on whether to approve, reject, or amend recent changes to visa regulations. These revisions are made through statements of changes to the Immigration Rules, with two such statements laid before Parliament by the Government. These changes automatically take effect unless either the House of Commons or House of Lords actively vote to annul them within 40 days. Typically, there's no vote, and the government isn't obligated to schedule one in the Commons, even if MPs table motions against the changes. However, there will be a Westminster Hall debate on the Family visa changes on 23rdApril, sponsored by Paul Blomfield (Labour), though this debate won't include a vote.

The government justifies these changes by citing concerns over high immigration levels, with a focus on reducing net migration by addressing factors such as the prioritisation of fostering British talent and to discourage businesses on excessive reliance of migration while acknowledging the invaluable contributions of health and care professionals. The changes aim to align the UK's immigration policies with the current economic climate while maintaining the integrity of the immigration system.

For those seeking to extend their Family visa, the increased £29,000 income threshold will not be applicable. The Home Office clarified this after initially suggesting otherwise.

What about existing visas?

For those seeking to extend their Family visa, the increased £29,000 income threshold will not be applicable. The Home Office clarified this after initially suggesting otherwise. Transitional arrangements are in place for those with existing Family visas or for those who applied before 11th April 2024, requiring a minimum income of £18,600 per year. Both the applicant and sponsor's income count towards the threshold for extensions and permanent residence. Savings above £16,000 can also contribute, but the amount needed for savings-based qualification has increased.

Existing holders of Skilled Worker visas (including Tier 2 General visas), who made an application before 4th April 2024, do not need to meet the increased salary threshold when applying to extend or settle, so long as their applications are made before 4th April 2030. They must be paid whichever is the higher of £29,000 per year (rather than £38,700) and the 'lower going rate' for their job (rather than the 'standard going rate'). Individuals applying for their first Skilled Worker visa after 4th April 2024 can still be paid less than the increased salary threshold in some circumstances. This includes people at the start of their career, such as those aged under 26 or on a Graduate visa. There are also different salaries for NHS staff and education workers, based on national pay scales.

Overall, Cleverly's five-point plan represents a significant shift in immigration policies, with the aim of balancing the need for skilled workers with efforts to reduce overall migration levels and ensure migrants contribute effectively to the economy. As these changes continue to unfold, they are likely to spark debates about the future trajectory of immigration policies and their implications for various sectors of society.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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