Home Office reveals package
of measures to cut net
5 December 2023
The UK government has unveiled a five-point plan to deliver the biggest ever cut in net migration and curb abuse of the immigration system.
The announcement comes after official figures last month showed net migration had soared to a record 745,000 in 2022. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing mounting pressure to take action to reduce net migration and rescue the Conservative party’s reputation ahead of the next general election, expected to take place in 2024.
The new package of measures announced yesterday will end the high numbers of dependants coming to the UK, increase the minimum salaries that overseas workers and British or settled people sponsoring family members must earn, and tackle exploitation across the immigration system.
Home Secretary James Cleverly said: “It is clear that net migration remains far too high. By leaving the European Union we gained control over who can come to the UK, but far more must be done to bring those numbers down so British workers are not undercut and our public services put under less strain.
My plan will deliver the biggest ever reduction in net migration and will mean around 300,000 people who came to the UK last year would not have been able to do so. I am taking decisive action to halt the drastic rise in our work visa routes and crack down on those who seek to take advantage of our hospitality.”
The package of measures will deliver the following five changes, expected to come into effect in the spring next year.
Tougher rules for overseas care workers
The adult social care sector has come to rely heavily on international recruitment since the government made care workers and home carers eligible for the Health and Care Worker visa in February 2022. In the year ending September 2023, 101,000 Health and Care visas were issued to care workers and senior care workers, with an estimated 120,000 visas granted to associated dependants.
However, the government states that the addition of carers in the UK’s immigration system was a temporary measure to fill labour shortages, and significant concerns have emerged about high levels of non-compliance, worker exploitation and abuse within the adult social care sector, particularly for overseas workers employed within care occupations.
The government will tighten the rules for this route by preventing overseas care workers from bringing dependant family members to the UK. In addition, care providers in England will need to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) if they wish to sponsor overseas care workers.
Higher salary threshold for Skilled Workers
From next spring, the salary threshold for Skilled Workers will increase by nearly 50% from its current position of £26,200 to £38,700. The government hopes this will deter employers from being over-reliant on overseas labour, whilst encouraging businesses to invest in their workforce and look for British talent first.
Those coming to the UK on a Health and Care Worker visa will be exempted from the increase to the salary threshold, and those on national pay scales, for example teachers, will also be exempted.
Removal of 20% salary discount for shortage occupations
To crackdown on ‘cut-price labour’ from overseas, the government will remove the 20% ‘going rate’ salary discount for shortage occupations and replace the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) with a new Immigration Salary List, which will retain a general threshold discount.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) will also be asked to review the new list against the increased salary thresholds to reduce the number of occupations on the list.
Increased income requirement for family visas
The government will also increase the minimum income required for British citizens and those settled in the UK who want their family members to join them. The minimum income requirement for spouse visas will be more than doubled, rising to £38,700 from the current £18,600.
Dr Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory, said that family migration makes up a small share of the total, but is a part of the package that could have the most significant impacts on individuals. The biggest impact is likely to be felt by lower-income British citizens, particularly women, younger people and people living in areas of the country where earnings tend to be lower.
MAC to review the Graduate visa route
As well as reviewing the Shortage Occupation List, the Migration Advisory Committee will also be asked to review the Graduate visa route to ensure it works in the best interests of the UK and to ensure steps are being taken to prevent abuse.
Impact on UK businesses
The new package of measures promises to deliver the biggest ever cut in net migration, with the government estimating that the changes will help reduce net migration by 300,000 a year.
The package builds on the tough action already taken by the Home Office to reduce the number of international students bringing dependants to the UK, and to prevent abuse of the Student route. These changes will come into effect in January 2024.
The Home Office has also increased immigration fees this year, and from January 2024 the Immigration Health Surcharge will rise from £624 to £1,035 per year for most migrants. Those that are still eligible to apply for a Skilled Worker visa under the new rules will therefore face higher costs to obtain their visa.
The new rules will make it significantly harder for employers to bring in migrant workers from overseas, with some lower-wage industries predicted to struggle with recruitment more than others. Experts warn that the change also risk causing further issues in the already stretched health sector, and could damage the UK’s long-term growth prospects.
To speak to an immigration advisor about how these changes may impact your business, please contact Smith Stone Walters today.