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UK Govt plans to cut net migration with new immigration rules in 2024

Immigration woman with luggage holding passport in airport

On Monday 4 December 2023, the Home Secretary James Cleverly announced significant changes to the Immigration Rules that are scheduled to come into force in Spring 2024 (see here for the announcement). These changes have been made due to record levels of migration to the UK, with the intended changes leading to “the biggest clampdown on UK migration ever” and “to crackdown on cut-price labour from overseas” according to the Home Office. The government view is that by making it harder to recruit from overseas “the government is prioritising growing our domestic workforce”.

Summary of the proposed UK immigration changes

The mooted changes are summarised as follows:

  • Minimum salary for Skilled Workers to increase from £26,200 to £38,700
  • The Shortage Occupation List is to be reviewed and the 20% discount is to be scrapped
  • The Graduate visa route is to be reviewed and potentially abolished (again.  For those with long enough memories, this was the fate of the pre-cursor known as the Post Study Work visa)
  • Care workers will no longer be able to sponsor dependents
  • For individuals wishing to sponsor family to join them in the UK, the minimum income threshold is increasing from £18,600 to £38,700

These changes are on top of a plethora of other changes that have come in or are due to come in, which are as follows:

  • From 1 January 2024, Students will no longer be able to sponsor dependents (unless they are studying for a PhD)
  • Home Office fees increased on 4 October 2024
  • The Immigration Health Surcharge is due to increase on 16 January 2024 from £624 per year to £1035 per year

The potential impact of the new immigration rules

The potential impact is significant. Of the over 260 occupation codes, only a dozen have minimum salary thresholds of over £38,700. The numbers of Skilled Workers entering the UK has grown exponentially in recent years, sparked by Brexit and the significant numbers of individuals who have left the labour market. The government believes that the new changes will reduce net migration by 300,000.

The concern is that job shortages in many sectors is a chronic problem and one that is not only effecting the UK – all G7 nations are suffering from shortages. Many other G7 nations are amending their rules to make it easier for skilled workers to enter; for example, Germany recently amended their immigration laws to make it easier (see here).

There is a lack of detail which will follow in due course. However, there is no suggestion that the previous discounts to salary (e.g. 20% for new entrants) are being abolished, so there may still be some room for manoeuvre.

There is a chance, albeit small, that these changes may be watered down for the following reasons:

  • A general election is likely to be held in either Spring or Autumn 2024. It is questionable whether there will be enough parliamentary time to debate and vote on these new rules
  • The current government will likely consider the reaction from both businesses and the public to this proposal before proceeding with the changes
  • The UK is still suffering from serious job shortages in many sectors. Small and large businesses alike may well put pressure on this government regarding this announcement as it will make it harder and more expensive to hire the right talent
  • The new rules for family visas will very likely be challenged in the courts. If the previous decisions regarding the current rules are anything to go by (e.g. the case of MM), the justification for this higher minimum income threshold may be difficult to justify on human rights grounds (which is why the current government will likely need to revoke the Human Rights Act too for this to work)

Next steps

It is difficult to fully advise as we await the full details, including the construction of the new Immigration Rules incorporating these changes. However, there are steps businesses can take to try and get ahead of these changes. They are as follows:

  • Firstly, speak to your staff, especially those who are sponsored. Whilst we await the detail, it is unlikely that those already on a Skilled Worker route will have to satisfy the new rules. Also speak to those who are on family visas or considering one for them or their partner and/or children – we have had many clients contacting us worried about the changes. Those already on a family visa route before the changes come in will likely stay on their route and not be effected by the changes.
  • If you have any staff you are considering sponsoring in the next six months, bring those plans forward. It is likely that those on the current Skilled Worker route and salary will remain on the current regime and not the new rules.
  • Bring forward recruitment plans, especially if there is a chance you will be sponsoring potential employees.
  • You can offset some of the new costs by considering the following options:
      Having agreements in place whereby employees pay back certain immigration costs if they leave within a certain period;
      Employees pay back immigration costs through salary;
      You require employees pay their own immigration application fees.
  • Consider hiring directly from the Student pools. Whilst we await more detail, there is no suggestion that the discounts for new entrants will be abolished. The 20% discount will likely still apply.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the new immigration rules, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us.

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