UK Immigration Reforms: An Overview of Recent Policy Changes

The UK Prime Minister and the Home Secretary announced on Monday, December 4, 2023, their plans to reduce net migration and stop immigration abuse. According to GOV.UK, these measures, along with a package to limit student dependents, are expected to prevent about 300,000 people from entering the UK who were previously eligible to do so under last year’s rules.

The proposed measures in the package include:

  • Restricting overseas care workers from bringing dependents and mandating that social care firms in England, seeking to sponsor care worker visas, provide services regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
  • Increasing the minimum earnings threshold for Skilled Worker visas from £26,200 to £38,700 and adjusting the individual occupation ‘going rate’ thresholds to align with the median full-time wage for equivalent jobs in 2023.
  • Granting an exemption from the £38,700 salary threshold for individuals entering through the Health and Social Care Visa route. This exemption is designed to facilitate the entry of healthcare workers crucial to the care sector and the NHS. Education workers on national pay-scale occupations are also exempted.
  • Overhauling the Shortage Occupation List by transforming it into an Immigration Salary List (ISL). This change eliminates the 20% going rate salary discount for shortage occupations. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has been commissioned to review the list composition, aligning it with the increased salary thresholds.
  • Increase the minimum salary needed for eligibility for a family visa. We still want to bring this into line with the new £38,700 minimum general pay threshold for skilled workers. This will guarantee that individuals only bring dependents to the UK that they can afford to support, and it will be applicable to all British and settled sponsors through the five-year partner route.
  • To provide predictability for families, the minimum income for family visas will be raised gradually and in stages.
  • In Spring 2024, the threshold will be increased to £29,000, representing the 25th percentile of earnings for jobs at the skill level of RQF3. Subsequent stages will include elevating the threshold to the 40th percentile (currently £34,500) and finally reaching the 50th percentile (currently £38,700), which is the level at which the General Skilled Worker threshold is set.
  • As part of these changes, the separate child element in the minimum income requirement will be eliminated. This decision aims to ensure that British nationals are treated equally and are not disadvantaged compared to migrants who are obligated to meet the General Skilled Worker threshold at a flat rate, irrespective of having children sponsored.
  • Additionally, a request will be made to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to conduct a review of the Graduate route.

While the Immigration Rules are pending amendment, the existing thresholds and policies will continue to be in effect. Detailed information regarding transitional provisions will be outlined next year when additional policy details are disclosed. Nevertheless, to offer clarity for individuals presently in the UK on routes that are expected to undergo changes, the following confirmations are provided:

Carers and senior carers – these changes will be introduced as soon as possible in the new year

  • For care workers (SOC code 6145) and senior care workers (SOC code 6146) who are already part of the existing route, they will be permitted to stay with their dependants, and this includes the options to extend, change employers (within these SOC codes), and pursue settlement.
  • In cases where a care worker or senior care worker is already on the route before the Immigration Rules change but has not yet brought dependants, they will be granted the allowance to bring dependants during their sponsorship (on this visa).
  • However, individuals currently in the UK on a different route, even if that route allows for dependants, will not be permitted to stay with or bring over dependants if they switch into the care visa as a care worker or senior care worker after the specified date.
  • Furthermore, care providers who were sponsoring workers engaged in exclusively non-regulated activities (and therefore not required to be registered with the Care Quality Commission – CQC) before the rule changes should be able to continue sponsoring these workers. This includes extensions to their visa on those terms, although they will not be able to hire new workers under these conditions.

Salary thresholds – these changes will be introduced via Immigration Rules with implementation in April

  • Individuals who are already part of the Skilled Worker route before the upcoming changes in Immigration Rules will be exempted from adhering to the new median salary levels when they change their sponsor, seek extensions, or apply for settlement. However, it is anticipated that their pay progression should align with that of resident workers. Therefore, when these individuals submit future applications to change employment, extend their stay, or settle, they will be subject to the updated 25th percentiles based on the latest pay data. This aligns with standard practice in such situations

Immigration Salary List – we will commission the MAC in January

  • The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) is set to undergo a name change to the Immigration Salary List. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) will be tasked with providing guidance on which occupations from the existing SOL should be retained on the list in accordance with the newly established salary thresholds.
  • During the transitional period until the new salary thresholds are implemented, the current Shortage Occupation List will continue to remain in effect. The anticipated timeline for the introduction of the new salary thresholds is late spring.

Family migration minimum income

  • For individuals with a family visa within the five-year partner route or those who submit applications prior to the elevation of the minimum income threshold, assessments will continue to be based on the existing income requirement. There will be no obligation to meet the increased threshold. This also applies to children seeking to join or accompany their parents.
  • Similarly, individuals granted a fiancé(e) visa before the minimum income threshold is raised will be evaluated against the current income requirement when applying for a family visa within the five-year partner route.
  • On the other hand, individuals currently in the UK on a different route who opt to switch into the five-year partner route after the minimum income requirement has been raised will be subjected to the new income requirement.

Graduate route review

  • The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) will conduct a comprehensive review of the visa route to ascertain its alignment with the best interests and priorities of the United Kingdom. The primary objectives include ensuring the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system is upheld. The MAC will be commissioned for this review in January, and the anticipated timeline for their work extends until late 2024.

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