Government’s five‑point plan to cut net migration

To combat record levels of migration to the UK, the government has made tightening the country’s immigration rules a key priority. In December 2023, the Home Secretary introduced a five-point plan to reduce net migration by around 300,000 people per year.

With the new rules set to come into force in Spring 2024, the government believes the changes will:

  • Deliver the biggest reduction in net migration on record
  • Bring net migration down towards more sustainable levels
  • Curb the employment of cheap labour from other countries
  • Ensure the NHS and businesses have access to the talent they need.

Under its five-point plan, the government will:

  1. Reform the current Health & Care visa system

The Health and Care visa enables overseas workers with specialist skills to come to the UK and work for licensed employers in eligible roles. Under the changes, holders of Health and Care visas will no longer be able to bring family dependants with them. In addition, organisations that want to sponsor people for Health and Care visas will be limited to those regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

  1. Increase the minimum salary required to obtain a Skilled Worker visa

A Skilled Worker visa allows an individual to come to the UK to do an eligible job with an approved employer. Applicants must be paid a minimum salary to qualify for a Skilled Worker visa.  At present, the threshold is £26,200. Under the changes, this will rise to £38,700 (an increase of 48%).

There will be temporary provisions to cover those already in the Skilled Worker route. Those on Health and Care visas and workers in occupations on the national pay scale (e.g. teachers) are exempt from the increase.

  1. Reform the Shortage Occupation List

The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) includes those jobs where there is a shortage of skilled workers in the UK. The SOL currently includes healthcare workers, engineers, veterinarians, construction workers, artists, and more. To make it easier for employers to hire skilled workers from outside the UK to fill these positions, jobs on the SOL can be paid 20% below the minimum salary threshold and benefit from lower fees for sponsored work visa applications.

To “scrap cut-price shortage labour from overseas”, the government plans to axe the 20 % discount. The list will also be reviewed, reformed, and reduced.

  1. Increase the minimum salary threshold for Family Visas

A Family Visa enables eligible foreign nationals to live with a family member in the UK. British citizens who want to use a Family Visa to bring their foreign family member or partner to the UK need to show they can financially support them. The minimum annual income required to do this is currently £18,600, increasing by £3,800 for a first dependent child and £2,400 for any additional children.

From Spring 2024, the minimum income threshold will increase to £29,000 before rising to £34,500 and then to £38,700 (an increase of over 100% from the current figure). There will no longer be a separate child element.

  1. Further changes to the Graduate Visa

Graduate Visas allow individuals to stay in the UK for at least two years after successfully completing their studies here. Since January 2024, changes to the Graduate Visa have limited the number of students who can bring family members to the UK to those on postgraduate research courses with dependents. The government will now ask the Migration Advisory Committee to review Graduate Visas further to prevent what it sees as “abuse” of the system.

Impact on Employers

While the government wants to prioritise growing the domestic workforce, the changes will likely impact businesses based in London and elsewhere in the UK that rely on foreign workers. The reforms may be especially worrying for those still battling with labour shortages in our post- Brexit, post-pandemic world.

Our immigration team is highly experienced in this area of law and fully understands the process of bringing personnel to the UK. We encourage employers to plan ahead to avoid being caught out by the changes.

As well as advising and working with you to navigate the best way through the system, we can also help with employees whose visas are about to expire. And we can assist with personal and family applications, plus procedures for overseas students keen to study in the UK.

If you would like to know more about how these changes may impact you or your business, please do not hesitate to contact Aoife Reid, our immigration specialist, or Michael McDonnell in our employment team.

This article is for general purpose and guidance only and does not constitute legal advice.  It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.