As we approach the end of 2023, the Government has made more pronouncements regarding immigration which will impact those working in the UK and their family members as well as the family members of British Citizens and others.
The Announcement on 4 December 2023
Following the statement by Home Secretary James Cleverley on 4 December, when he announced proposals to “reduce net migration”, the Government revealed its latest suggested changes to the UK Immigration Rules and routes, which focus on visa applications being made by sponsored Skilled Workers, family members of British Citizens and those with the right to remain in the UK permanently (‘family members’), as well as the immediate family members of student visa holders.
In introducing the changes, Cleverley stated in Parliament that:
- “The first of our five points will be to end the abuse of the health and care visa. We will stop overseas care workers from bringing family dependants and we will require care firms in England to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission in order for them to sponsor visas. Approximately 120,000 dependants accompanied 100,000 care workers and senior care workers in the year ending September 2023. Only 25% of dependants are estimated to be in work, meaning a significant number are drawing on public services rather than helping to grow the economy. We recognise that foreign workers do great work in our NHS and health sector, but it is also important that migrants make a big enough financial contribution. Therefore, we will increase the annual immigration surcharge this year by 66% from £624 to £1,035 to raise on average around £1.3bn for the health services of this country every year.
- “We will stop immigration undercutting the salary of British workers. We will increase the skilled worker earnings threshold by a third, to £38,700 from next spring in line with the median full-term wage for those kinds of jobs. Those coming on health and social care visa routes will be exempt so we can continue to bring in the healthcare workers on which our care sector and NHS rely.
- “Thirdly, we will scrap cut-price shortage labour from overseas by ending the 20% going-rate salary discount for shortage occupations and reforming the shortage occupation list. I have asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to review the occupations on this list because of our new higher-skilled worker salary thresholds, and we will create a new immigration salary list with a reduced number of occupations in co-ordination with the MAC.
- “Fourthly, we will ensure that people only bring dependants who they can support financially by raising the minimum income for family visas to the same threshold as the minimum salary threshold for skilled workers, which £38,700. The minimum income requirement of £18,600 has not been increased since 2012. This package of measures will take place from next spring.
- “Finally, having already banned overseas masters students from bringing family members to the UK, I have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review the graduate route to prevent abuse, to protect the integrity and quality of the UK’s outstanding higher education sector. It needs to work in the best interests of the UK, supporting the pathway into high quality jobs for the global talent pool but reducing opportunities for abuse.
- From January 2024, the right for international students to bring dependants will be removed unless they are on postgraduate courses designated as a research programme. We always want to attract the global brightest and best.
- We have also stopped international students from switching out of the student route into work routes before their studies have been completed. These changes will have a tangible impact on net migration.
- Around 153,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending September 2023, today I can announce that we will go even further than those provisions already in place, with a five-point plan to further curb immigration abuses that will deliver the biggest ever reduction in net migration.
- In total, this package, plus our reduction in students dependants will mean around 300,000 fewer people will come in future years than have come to the UK last year.”
Show me the money
In summary, the proposed changes are:
- Increasing the salary threshold for Skilled Workers to £38,700pa (from £26,500pa) – sponsored Skilled Workers must be paid the higher of this threshold or the relevant SOC Code rate
- The Skills Shortage Occupation List is to be reviewed and the salary discount to be removed
- Family members of British Citizens making applications to enter the UK to meet an increased Minimum Income Requirement (MIR) of £38,700pa (up from £18,600pa)
- Family members of students cannot accompany the student to the UK unless the course of study is a research programme
- Sponsored Skilled Workers on health and care worker visas will not be able to bring their family members as dependents to the UK
- The Immigration Health Surcharge is being increased to £1035pa per adult on 16th January 2024 – this is not a new change and was announced in mid-October 2023
This raft of announced changes comes hot on the heels of the Government losing its appeal at the Supreme Court in respect to its Rwanda Policy, the visa fee increases that came into effect on 4 October 2023, the future increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) coming into effect on 16 January 2024 (rising from £624 per year of visa for adults) and its need to appear to continue to be “tough on immigration/reduce ‘net migration’”. Sadly, there appears to be no real thought process or practical plan, no consideration of what this will do to employers, the economy, and no impact assessment…
Bindmans will continue to hold the Home Office to account and work with them to secure some clarity, substance and detail and we are communicating directly with the Home Office as well as collaboratively and collectively with other lawyers and legal organisations to lobby the government to re-assess and re-consider the proposals. I also co-wrote an article on the announcement expressing concern with the modifications.
What we know
Nothing is enshrined yet and everything is in flux/at play for now. There is no firm date for any incorporation of the revisions to the current financial thresholds – either for sponsored Skilled Workers or family members – or the Student Visa route changes – save for Spring 2024.
Neither of the new income level changes have been incorporated into the legislative landscape and there is much opposition growing to the announcement. A week after the Cleverly appearance in Parliament, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has already indicated somewhat of a climbdown in relation to the new MIR for partners/family members of British Citizens. In ‘Prime Minister’s Questions’ last week, he stated that his government is “looking at transitional arrangements” following widespread concern that the new rule would mean only the upwardly mobile will be able to satisfy the requirement and that the increase will be applied retrospectively to families making visa extension applications.
Reunite Families is investigating taking legal action to challenge the changes as they impact families, and there has been and continues to be widespread outrage across all industries and sectors as to the proposed salary threshold increases for Skilled Workers. Much pressure is being directed towards the Government from all quarters to rethink the hike in the basic salary threshold for Skilled Workers – from the BMA to business leaders, trade unions to immigration lawyers (including Bindmans).
All of this means that presently there is no definitive change to those financial markers.
We would strongly suggest/advise that if you believe any employees may be impacted by the possible increases that they seek legal advice as soon as possible.
- Sponsored Skilled Workers
We do not yet know how the changes will impact existing sponsored Skilled Workers who will need to be assigned a further Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)/be granted the accompanying visa, in order to have worked in the UK for five continuous years and thus be eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).
In such circumstances it may be prudent to consider assigning a new CoS and for a new visa application to be made.
- Family Members
The indicated changes may also impact employees who have visas as the spouse or qualifying partner as a family member, as the increased MIR will possibly apply to those already in the UK. What this means in practice is that if a person does not meet the new threshold they may be funneled into the 10 year family route (rather than five years if meeting the MIR) before being eligible to apply for ILR. This has associated cost implications especially as family visas are currently only granted for 33 months at a time.
However, it is not possible to apply for an extension to a family visa earlier than 28 days before the current family visa expires – unless switching into a different visa route.
In such circumstances all we can do is advise to both wait and see if there is a climbdown of some kind and to seek legal advice as appropriate.
- Employees on other visas
You may, of course, have employees who hold other visas that allow them to work; Students, Graduate Visa holders, Global Talent Visa holders, Youth Mobility Scheme Visa holders and those with a High Potential Individual visa, plus dependents of the same visa routes (not an exhaustive list).
It might be prudent to do a quick audit so that assessment can be made – Bindmans will be pleased to assist with any advice needed and applications that need to be filed. You may want to think about:
- For those Graduate Visa/High Potential Individual Visa holders – if the role they are currently on has an approved SOC Code and the salary is above both the current going rate and the SOC Code going rate, then consideration should be made to switching them to a Skilled Worker CoS and visa.
- Ditto those on a Student visa who may qualify
- Do consider switching employees into a different visa category – such as Global Talent or family visa if appropriate
- If a dependent in one category then perhaps they can switch into their own status – depending on individual circumstances
- Look at any future external hires from overseas and in the UK and consider bringing forward the assigning of a CoS and assisting with the accompanying visa applications
- Do factor in the upcoming changes to the Immigration Health Surcharge on 16 January 2024.
At the present time the devil remains in the detail and there are no firm dates for introduction; there is also hope/potential that the government bow to the outcry and do not introduce such sweeping hikes.
Bindmans continues to engage with the Home Office to highlight the impact this will have on businesses, the British economy, families and the UK generally and we will provide further updates as things unfold.