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Home Secretary unveils new immigration policy to cut net migration

On 4 December 2023, the Home Secretary unveiled a five-point plan designed to reduce immigration numbers and curb abuse of the immigration system.

The changes are likely to be in place for Spring 2024. The new policy comes in response to the Government’s position that net migration “remains far too high”. The proposed new policy is said to bring about the “biggest ever reduction in net migration” and the Home Secretary subsequently claimed that around 300,00 people who came to the UK last year would not be able to do so under the new measures. We set out below some of the key measures that are due to be implemented and consider how these may impact your business.

Increase to minimum salary threshold for Skilled Workers

There are over 90,000 businesses registered with UK Visas & Immigration as a sponsor of the Skilled Worker visa and employers heavily rely on this route to fill gaps in their recruitment. The minimum salary threshold for Skilled Workers is currently £26,200 per annum. Under the proposed new measures, this will to increase to £38,700 per annum. The Government states that this will encourage businesses to look to British talent first, invest in their workforce and to bring salaries in line with the average full-time salary for these types of jobs that are being sponsored.  The current minimum salary is already in line with National Minimum Wage and this increase is significantly higher than we were expecting.  As we haven’t seen the detail surrounding the plan yet, we don’t know exactly when this change will take effect but we are already seeing sponsors move swiftly to bring forward scheduled recruitment to ensure that they benefit from the current, lower salary rates.

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Health and Care Worker Visas

Health and Care Worker visas are to be tightened to stop care workers from bringing their dependents to the UK. Care providers in England will also only be able to sponsor migrant workers under this visa if they are undertaking activities regulated by the Care Quality Commission.

However, the Health and Care visa route will be exempt from the increase to the minimum salary threshold for Skilled Worker visas (although it remains to be seen what salary threshold they will have to meet). The Government has said that this will mean we can continue to bring in healthcare workers that the care sector and NHS need and will also exempt those on national pay scales.

Shortage Occupation List

The Shortage Occupation List currently provides a 20% going rate salary discount for shortage occupations. This is now due to be replaced with a new ‘Immigration Salary List’. The Migration Advisory Committee will review the new list against the increased salary thresholds in order to reduce the number of occupations on the list.

Graduate Visas

Graduate Visas used by international students who have completed their studies and are transitioning into employment in the UK.  It was announced yesterday that these are also due to be reviewed by the Migration Advisory Committee. Further measures are therefore likely to be on the horizon which could impact employers’ ability to recruit these individuals without sponsorship.

Next steps

Although the above provides a good indication of the extent of the changes due to come into force next year, key details (such as the exact date of implementation) are yet to be announced. We should expect to hear more in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, businesses that employ Skilled Workers should readily be considering whether they wish to take advantage of the current salary threshold. If so, they should seek to do so quickly (and particularly if they do not already have a sponsor licence in place).

For further information and enquiries, please contact one of our specialist immigration lawyers.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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