Spring 2024 Immigration Changes: What Businesses and Individuals Need to Know
In a move aimed at reducing legal migration numbers to the UK by around 300,000, on Monday, 4 December, the Home Secretary unveiled a series of significant measures, including changes to the Skilled Worker minimum salary threshold, modifications to the Shortage Occupation List, adjustments to dependant visas, and a review of the Graduate visa route.
These changes, set to take effect in Spring 2024, come on the back of a recent increase in visa application fees and an increase in the Immigration Health Surcharge due to come into force from next month. They represent a substantial shift in the UK’s immigration landscape and carry wide-ranging implications for businesses, workers and family members of British or settled persons. In this post, we will delve into the key changes and their potential impacts for businesses and individuals.
Skilled Worker Minimum Salary Threshold
The headline change is the substantial increase in the minimum salary threshold for Skilled Worker visas, rising nearly 50% from £26,200 to £38,700 per annum. While Health and Care Workers will remain exempt from the increase, this adjustment poses challenges for businesses, particularly those heavily reliant on sponsoring lower-paid skilled workers. The increase, exceeding the median UK salary, may lead to difficulties in recruitment for sectors like hospitality, where an estimated 95% of sponsored visas for roles such as chefs and managers could fail to meet the new threshold.
In our analysis, 210 out of the 225 occupation codes that are eligible for a Skilled Worker visa (excluding health and education occupation codes) will be impacted by the increase in the minimum salary threshold, as the going rate in these 210 occupation codes is currently less than £38,700 (assuming a 37.5 hour working week).
We calculate that minimum salaries for jobs falling within these 210 occupation codes will need to increase by between 1% and 47.7% in order to satisfy the new minimum. Of the 210 occupation codes facing an increased general salary threshold, workers whose jobs fall within 116 (55%) of these occupation codes will need to be paid a minimum salary that is at least 47.7% higher than under current arrangements (again assuming a 37.5 hour working week).
Since the going rate is calculated on the basis of a 37.5 hour working week and must be pro-rated based on the weekly working hours stated on the certificate of sponsorship (CoS), the new arrangements will put pressure on employers to increase the working hours of sponsored workers, either as an alternative to paying higher salaries or to offset some of the additional cost.
That said, as the Migration Observatory has pointed out, it is also true that the elevated £38,700 requirement for long-term skilled work visas impacts only a limited segment of recipients. Specifically, approximately half of the 208,000 Skilled Worker visas granted to primary applicants in the year ending September 2023 were allocated to care workers and senior care workers. Notably, these groups are exempted from the salary increase. Additionally, another 20% of visas were issued to individuals in health or teaching roles, and they remain unaffected by the new requirement as their salaries are determined based on nationally agreed pay scales.
Consequently, the repercussions of the increase to the skilled worker minimum salary threshold will be felt by the remaining occupations, constituting approximately 30% of visa grants, predominantly situated in the private sector. Even for this category of workers though, it’s worth noting that many migrants occupying these positions already earn salaries surpassing the newly established £38,700 threshold.
As the Migration Observatory has observed, the impact of the raise will, therefore, be most noticeable in middle-skilled occupations, such as butchers and chefs, where typical salaries hover around £26,000, mirroring the existing salary threshold. Small businesses, particularly those beyond London and the South East, generally offer slightly lower pay, making them also more susceptible to the impact of the heightened threshold.
Salaries being paid to existing employees will not be impacted immediately. It is hoped that transitional measures will apply when their visas need to be renewed, but whether this is the case or not remains to be seen.
It also remains unclear whether sponsored skilled workers applying under the Skilled Worker route will be able to be paid less than £38,700 where, as currently, they are awarded additional so-called ‘tradable points’ for other attributes such as being a new entrant to the labour market or having a job offer for a job in a shortage occupation. If they are able to be paid less than the new general salary threshold of £38,700, the applicable minimum remains to be seen.
Shortage Occupation List (SOL)
The government intends to replace the existing Shortage Occupation List (SOL) with a new Immigration Salary List. The Immigration Salary List will remove the 20% discount to the minimum salary for shortage occupation roles, although it is understood that a general salary threshold discount will be retained.
This change, coupled with a review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), indicates potential disruption in sectors such as technology, engineering and construction. Employers should anticipate a reduction in the number of occupations on the list, potentially impacting recruitment strategies in specific industries.
Family and Dependant Visas
While social care workers will not be permitted to bring dependents to the UK from Spring 2024, there was no announcement regarding limitations on dependents for Skilled Workers or Global Business Mobility migrants.
However, the increase in the minimum income threshold for family visas under Appendix FM from £18,600 to £38,700 will introduce a financial barrier for many British citizens, or those settled in the UK, seeking to sponsor a spouse, partner or fiance. (UPDATE: Home Office Revises Minimum Income Requirement for Spouse, Partner and Family Visas to £29,000)
According to the Migration Observatory, just under 70% of British employees working in the UK earned less than the new income threshold in 2023 and the increased income threshold will disproportionately impact certain demographic groups. Specifically, while approximately 60% of men earn less than the new income requirement, this percentage rises to over 75% for women. Moreover, nearly all part-time employees earn below the threshold, effectively restricting the ability of migrant dependents to reside in the UK to full-time workers.
Recalling the Supreme Court’s judgment in MM (Lebanon)  UKSC 10, the increase in the partner visa minimum income requirement is arguably incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and will, no doubt, be subject to legal challenge. However, more immediately, applicants who fear that they may not be able to satisfy the new financial requirement may wish to consider applying for their spouse, partner or fiance to join them before the new income requirement is introduced in “Spring 2024”.
Family members who are not able to apply before the new rules are introduced and who are not able to satisfy the new financial requirement for a UK spouse, partner or fiance visa may still be able to enter or remain in the UK by relying on third-party support or by invoking an exception to the financial requirement. Due to the complexity of such applications, we recommend that anyone considering an application on either of these bases seeks legal advice.
- Exceptional Circumstances in Appendix FM Family Visa Applications
- Exceptions to Appendix FM Partner & Parent Visa Requirements
Graduate Immigration Route
The Graduate Visa, introduced in 2021, allowing international graduates to stay in the UK for an additional two years post-study, is now under review. The Government has announced that it will be asking the Migration Advisory Committee to review the route following questions about the route’s effectiveness, potential abuse, and the future career paths available to international graduates.
This review underscores the government’s commitment to ensuring that the Graduate visa route aligns with the UK’s best interests and doesn’t inadvertently contribute to labour market imbalances. Businesses relying on international talent will need to monitor these developments closely, considering their implications for future recruitment strategies.
The Home Secretary’s recent announcement signifies a significant shift in the UK’s immigration policies, aiming to strike a balance between controlling migration numbers and addressing skills shortages.
Further details will be available when the government publishes a Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules, although we may need to wait until March 2024 for this.
In the meantime, as businesses and family members navigate these changes, strategic considerations are crucial. Employers should assess their current and future recruitment needs, potentially accelerating visa applications before the impending increases. Spouses, partners and fiances should ideally consider applying before the minimum income requirement is increased, or alternatively assess their eligibility to enter or remain in the UK on human rights grounds.
Contact Our Immigration Barristers
For expert advice and assistance in relation to a UK visa application as a skilled worker or family member of a British citizen or settled person, contact our immigration barristers on 0203 617 9173 or complete our enquiry form below.