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UK Government announces major changes to legal immigration, raising minimum skilled worker salary


Government announces major changes to legal immigration, raising minimum skilled worker salary and income requirement for spouse visa to over £38K


Home Secretary sets out five-point plan that will take effect in Spring 2024 to reduce net migration.

With official estimates of net migration reaching record levels of 745,000 in 2022, the Home Secretary has today made a very significant statement to the House of Commons setting out plans to cut family, study and work-related immigration.

ImmigrationImage credit: UK GovernmentPrime Minister Rishi Sunak said recently that levels of immigration are too high and need to come down to sustainable levels.

In today's announcement, the Home Secretary James Cleverly said a new five-point plan will be introduced that will take effect in Spring 2024. Under the new plan:

• The minimum salary for foreign skilled workers will be raised from £26,200 to £38,700 (though the health and care sector will be exempt).

• The minimum income requirement for a spouse or family visa will be raised from £18,600 to £38,700.

• Care workers will not be allowed to bring any dependents to the UK, and care firms will be required to be registered with the Care Quality Commission to sponsor visas.

• The Shortage Occupation List will be reformed and the current 20% going rate salary discount for shortage occupations will be abolished.

• The rules on students bringing family members to the UK will be tightened, plus the Migration Advisory Committee will be commissioned to carry out a full review of the graduate visa route.

The announcement of the very large increase from £18,600 to £38,700 in the minimum income requirement for a spouse or family visa was met with considerable surprise and dismay on social media. Katie Newbury of Kingsley Napley solicitors noted on X (formerly Twitter) that the increase also means that British people will need to earn at least £38,700 if they want to bring their partner to the UK. The non-profit organisation Reunite Families UK said it was "beyond devastated" by the increase. Author and political journalist Ian Duntcalled it "an assault on mixed-nationality British families". Chris Smyth, the Whitehall editor of The Times, noted that three quarters of British people are now "too poor to marry a foreigner".

Downing Street said the aim of the new plan was to deliver the biggest reduction in net migration on record. The Home Secretary said the new measures would mean that over 300,000 of the estimated 1.2 million people who moved to the UK in 2022 would now be unable to do so.

Yvette Cooper, Labour's shadow Home Secretary, said in response that the statement represented an admission of years of total failure by the Conservative government over immigration and the economy. Cooper noted that net migration had trebled as a result of the Government's own policies. She said the Prime Minister was now opposing his own policies in a 'chaotic panic'. "Who does the Home Secretary think has been in charge for the past 13 years?" Cooper asked.

The Home Secretary's full statement follows below:

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Cleverly)

"With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on legal migration.

"Migration to this country is far too high and needs to come down. Today, we are taking more robust action than any Government have before in order to bring it down. Since my first day in the Home Office, just three weeks ago, I have been determined to crack down on those who try to jump the queue and exploit our immigration system. I have been working closely with my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister on this subject. The recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show a provisional estimate of net migration for the year ending June 2023 of 672,000. While that is lower than the ONS estimate for net migration for the year ending December 2022, it is still far too high.

"When our country voted to leave the European Union, we also voted to take back control of our borders. Thanks to this Conservative Government, we now have a points-based immigration system through which we can control who comes to the UK. We prioritise the skills and talent we need to grow our economy and support our NHS, and we have a competitive visa system for globally mobile talent; for example, last year we expanded health worker visa access to address the urgent need for more social care workers. The whole country can be proud that in the past decade we have also welcomed more than half a million people through humanitarian routes—people from Ukraine, Hong Kong and Afghanistan, including 85,000 from Ukraine and Hong Kong in the past year alone.

"The British people will always do the right thing by those in need, but they also, absolutely rightly, want to reduce overall immigration numbers. That means not only stopping the boats and shutting down illegal routes, but a well-managed reduction in legal migration. People are understandably worried about housing, GP appointments, school places and access to other public services when they can see their communities growing quickly in numbers.

"From January 2024, the right for international students to bring dependants will be removed unless they are on postgraduate courses designated as research programmes. We always want to attract the global brightest and best. We have also stopped international students 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, 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 student dependants, will mean that around 300,000 fewer people will come to the UK in future years than came last year.

"These measures are possible because we are building up our domestic workforce and supporting British workers. Thanks to the excellent work of my right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary, our back to work plan will help people stay healthy, get off benefits and move into sustainable employment. It builds on the ambitious £7 billion employment package from the spring Budget to help up to 1.1 million people with long-term health conditions or disabilities, or who have been in long-term unemployment, to look for work, get into work and stay in work. We are also investing heavily in helping adults learn valuable skills and prepare for the economy of the future, and of course we have world-class universities that help in that endeavour.

"The first point of our five-point plan will be to end the abuse of the health and care visa. We will stop overseas care workers bringing family dependants, and we will require care firms in England to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission in order 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, which means that 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 health surcharge this year by 66%, from £624 to £1,035, to raise on average around £1.3 billion for the health services of this country every year.

"Secondly, we will stop immigration undercutting the salaries 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-time 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 occupations list. I have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review the occupations on the list because of our new higher skilled worker salary threshold, and we will create a new immigration salary list, with a reduced number of occupations, in co-ordination with MAC.

"Fourthly, we will ensure that people bring only dependants whom 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 is £38,700. The minimum income requirement is currently £18,600 and has not been increased since 2012. This package of measures will take effect from next spring.

"Finally, having already banned overseas master's students from bringing family members to the UK, I have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review the graduate route to prevent abuse and 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. This package of measures, in addition to the measures on student dependants that we announced in May, will mean that around 300,000 fewer people will be eligible to come to the UK than came last year. That is the largest reduction on record.

"Immigration policy must be fair, consistent, legal and sustainable. That is why we are also taking the fight to illegal migration. Our plan to stop the boats is working. Small boat arrivals are down by a third, even as illegal migration across the rest of Europe is on the rise.

"Today we have taken decisive action to reduce legal migration with our five-point plan. Enough is enough. We are curbing abuses of the healthcare visa, increasing thresholds, cutting the shortage occupations list discount, increasing family income requirements and cutting the number of student dependants. I commend this statement to the House."

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