The growing pressure on the UK government to reduce net migration has come to fruition with the Immigration Minister’s recent announcements to the House of Commons on 4 December. James Cleverley set out a five point plan that is one of the biggest shake ups to the UK immigration system since the new points based system was re-launched in January 2021 following the UK’s exit from the EU.

Five Point Plan

Under the new plans that are expected to come into effect from spring 2024, the Home Secretary intends to:

  • Increase the minimum salary threshold for skilled foreign workers from £26,200 to £38,700 with an exemption for Heath and Care Worker visas
  • Reform the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) following the Migration Advisory Committee’s reviews of occupations on the list that will seek to reduce the number of occupations on the list and end the 20% discount for such roles
  • Prevent workers coming on the Heath and Care Worker visa from bringing their family dependants, and care firms must be regulated by the Care Quality Commission to sponsor visas
  • Increase the minimum financial requirement for a spouse or family visa from £18,600 to £38,700 that will prevent many from being eligible to apply under this visa route
  • Review the Graduate visa route through the Migration Advisory Committee to “prevent abuse and to protect the integrity and quality” of the higher education sector

This plan aims to reduce net migration to a “more sustainable level” however such measures are likely to have a detrimental effect on the health sector that continues to face staff shortages today with growing NHS waiting lists. A proportion of care workers will no doubt be deterred from coming to the UK without their family members; a controversial move on part of the Home Secretary. More significantly the new plans are reverting back to a pre-Brexit immigration system and goes even further with a 60% increase on salary thresholds for both skilled workers and family members of British and settled people. UK employer’s that rely on a skilled foreign workforce will need to revise their recruitment plans from 2024 and also prepare budgets with the expected increase of the annual mandatory Immigration Health Surcharge from £624 to £1,035 in January next year.

Whether this clampdown on legal migration will reduce net migration remains to be seen over time. The more significant question is how the government will achieve economic growth by targeting skills based immigration that is in fact a considerable contributor to the UK economy. While we expect there will be transitional provisions for those already in the UK under these immigration routes we await further information of these changes.

For further information or assistance with business immigration please contact our Employment, Pensions & Immigration team.

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