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On 4 December 2023, the Home Secretary announced the government’s plans to implement various measures to reduce legal immigration to the UK.

The ‘five-point plan’ aims to deliver the “biggest ever reduction in net migration” and the Government states that it will result in approximately 300,000 people who entered the UK last year being unable to satisfy the new requirements.

The changes detailed below are expected to come into force in Spring 2024, except for the increase to the immigration health surcharge which will apply from 16 January 2024.

Skilled worker minimum salary increase

There are various eligibility requirements for a skilled worker visa, including a minimum salary threshold for a particular job.

The minimum salary threshold is set to increase from £26,200 to £38,700. However, those coming in on Health and Care visas and those on national pay scales (i.e. teachers) will be exempt from this increase.

The new threshold is higher than the current gross median earnings for UK full-time employees. It poses a particular problem for sectors such as hospitality, manufacturing and education, where junior roles will not satisfy the new salary requirement.

It is not yet clear whether the government will require the salaries for all skilled workers to increase to the new minimum threshold in Spring 2024 or if it will only apply to new or renewed visas. We are of the opinion that it is unlikely that the new rate will apply retrospectively to existing visas, but we will keep this under review.

Family visa minimum salary increase

Family visas are subject to a minimum main income requirement. The current threshold of £18,600 a year is also set to increase to £38,700. This change is expected to significantly affect lower income groups such as women, young people and people residing outside of London.

Removal of salary discount for shortage occupations

The skilled worker visa route has a shortage of occupation list, which includes sectors such as health and care, construction and education. If an occupation falls under this list, then the minimum salary threshold can be reduced by 20%.

The government is looking at scrapping the 20% salary discount for a large number of roles on shortage occupations and reforming the list.  As such, the government has instructed the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to reduce the number of shortage occupations and create a new Immigration Salary List so that fewer occupations will benefit from the threshold discount.

Immigration health surcharge increase

The immigration health surcharge, which visa holders incur to use the NHS, will increase by 66% from £624 to £1,035 per year, in order to increase funds for the health service. Health and Care workers are exempt from the charge and students and under-18s pay a reduced rate.

This is a further significant cost increase following the other increases earlier this year.

Health and Care visa reform

Two main reforms to the health and care worker visa have been announced.

Firstly, health and care worker visa holders will be prevented from bringing any dependants to the UK.

Secondly, care worker sponsors will need to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission to prevent abuse.

The first reform is of particular concern to the health and care industry since it may deter overseas workers from filling skills shortages.  

Graduate visa review

The government has called for the MAC to review the Graduate visa route to protect against abuse. Anticipated reforms include:

  • Removal of the right to bring dependants into the UK with the exception of students on postgraduate research courses; and
  • Prevention of international students switching to other work visas whilst they are still studying.

In light of the above changes, it is likely that employers will rush to get sponsor licence applications in before the increased salary thresholds come into force in spring 2024.

If you require assistance obtaining a sponsor licence and/or applying for a skilled worker visa, do not hesitate to get in contact.