Further information on the
government's plans to cut
net migration in 2024

On 4 December 2023, the UK government announced a package of measures designed to curb abuse of the immigration system and deliver the biggest ever cut in net migration.

The five-point plan aims to slash the number of people coming to the UK by around 300,000 a year, after official figures released last year showed net migration had soared to a record 745,000 in 2022.

The new rules will be rolled out at different stages throughout 2024 and will impact migrants on a variety of routes, including family visa applicants, Skilled Worker visa applicants and overseas care workers coming to the UK under the Health and Care Worker route.

Following the announcement, the government has now released further information on the upcoming changes, to provide greater clarity for employers and those migrants currently in the UK on affected routes.

Until the Immigration Rules are amended, the current thresholds and policies remain in place. Full details of transitional provisions will be set out when further policy details are announced. In the meantime, below is a brief overview of the new rules and an indicative timetable of when each change is expected to be introduced in 2024.

Overseas care workers

The government will tighten the rules for overseas care workers coming to the UK under the Health and Care Worker route. In the year ending September 2023, 101,000 Health and Care Worker visas were issued to care workers and senior care workers, with an estimated 120,000 visas granted to associated dependants.

Under the new rules, care workers will no longer be permitted to bring dependant family members with them to the UK, and care providers in England who wish to sponsor overseas care workers must be providing services regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The Home Office has provided the following clarifications for care workers and their employers:

  • Care workers (SOC code 6145) and senior care workers (SOC code 6146) already in the UK under the Health and Care Worker route will be allowed to remain with their dependant family members, including extending, changing employer (within these SOC codes) and settlement.
  • Where a care worker or senior care worker is in the route before the Immigration Rules change, but has not yet brought dependants, they will be allowed to bring dependants during their sponsorship (on this visa).
  • Individuals who are in the UK on any other route, including where that route permits dependants, who switch into the Health and Care Worker visa as a care worker or senior care worker after this date, will not be able to stay with (or bring over) dependants.
  • Care providers who were sponsoring workers in exclusively non-regulated activities (and therefore not required to be registered with the CQC) before the rules change should be able to continue to sponsor these workers, including for extensions to their visa on those terms, but not hire new ones.

Changes to the rules for Care Workers and Senior Care Workers are set to be introduced as soon as possible in 2024.

Skilled Worker salary threshold

In the Spring, the government will increase the salary threshold for Skilled Workers by nearly 50% from its current position of £26,200 to £38,700, and raise the individual occupation ‘going rate’ thresholds in line with the median full-time wage for equivalent jobs in 2023. 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.

Further details on these changes are as follows:

  • Those already in the UK on a Skilled Worker visa before the Immigration Rules change should be exempt from the new median salary levels when they change sponsor, extend, or settle. However, the Home Office will expect their pay to progress at the same rate as resident workers. Therefore, they would be subject to the updated 25th percentiles using the latest pay data when they next make an application to change employment, extend their stay, or settle.
  • 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.

These changes will be introduced via Immigration Rules with implementation in April 2024.

New Immigration Salary List (ISL)

To crackdown on ‘cut-price labour’ from overseas, the government will reform the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) and end the 20% ‘going rate’ salary discount for shortage occupations.

  • The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) will be renamed the Immigration Salary List (ISL) and the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) will advise on which of the current SOL occupations should remain on the list in line with the new salary thresholds.
  • The current SOL will remain in place until the new salary thresholds are put in place in late Spring.

The Home Office will commission the MAC to carry out this work in January 2024.

Family migration minimum income

The minimum income requirement for family visas will be increased, to bring it in line with the new minimum general salary threshold for Skilled Workers.

This means the minimum income requirement will be more than doubled, rising to £38,700 from the current £18,600. This change will ensure people can only bring dependants to the UK if they can support them financially and will apply to all British and settled sponsors under the five-year partner route.

To give greater predictability to families, the Home Office will raise the minimum income for family visas incrementally, in stages. Starting in Spring 2024, the threshold will be raised to £29,000, that is the 25th percentile of earnings for jobs at the skill level of RQF3, moving to the 40th percentile (currently £34,500) and finally the 50th percentile (currently £38,700 and the level at which the General Skilled Worker threshold is set).

There will also no longer be a separate child element to the minimum income requirement, to ensure that British nationals are not treated less favourably than migrants who are required to meet the General Skilled Worker threshold as a flat rate, regardless of any children being sponsored.

The Home Office has provided further information for families on the changes:

  • Those who already have a family visa within the five-year partner route, or who apply before the minimum income threshold is raised, will continue to have their applications assessed against the current income requirement and will not be required to meet the increased threshold. This will also be the case for children seeking to join or accompany parents.
  • Anyone granted a fianc(é)e visa before the minimum income threshold is raised will also be assessed against the current income requirement when they apply for a family visa within the five-year partner route.
  • Those already in the UK on a different route who apply to switch into the five-year partner route, after the minimum income requirement has been increased, will be subject to the new income requirement.

Review of the Graduate route

As well as reviewing shortage occupations, the Migration Advisory Committee will also be asked to look at the Graduate route to ensure steps are being taken to prevent abuse.

  • The MAC will review the Graduate visa route to ensure that it is operating in the best interests and priorities of the UK, and ensuring the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system is maintained.

The Home Office will commission the MAC in January and this work is expected to continue until late 2024.

Get expert advice on UK immigration

The new rules will have far-reaching implications for many migrants seeking to live and work in the UK in 2024. The changes will also 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.

If your business has plans for an international recruitment drive in 2024, Smith Stone Walters recommends expediting the process where possible, before the higher salary thresholds come into effect in the Spring. Smith Stone Walters can advise your business on the requirements to sponsor workers, and provide practical support and guidance throughout the entire process.

To speak to an immigration advisor about how these changes may impact you or your business, please contact us today.

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