Associate Harry Qiu Yu Yu explores the Home Secretary’s proposed five-point plan to curb net migration.
On 4 December 2023, Home Secretary James Cleverly delivered a statement to parliament on how the Government intends to reduce net migration to the UK. This comes after the Office of National Statistics recently released net migration data showing that it is at an all-time high (i.e. 745,000 in 2022 and 672,000 between June 2022 to June 2023).
The Home Secretary announced a five-point plan as set out below.
1. Stop overseas care workers from bringing family dependents and only issuing care visas to the employees of sponsors which are regulated by the Care Quality Commission
Presently health and care workers are allowed to bring their dependents to the UK. However, this is limited to their partner (i.e. spouse, civil partner, or unmarried partner whom they’ve been in a durable relationship with for at least two years) and their children (whom must be under the age of 18 when applying initially). For all other categories of family members including siblings, parents, relatives, etc. of health and care workers, there is simply no applicable immigration route to apply under. As such, the immigration rules already restrict dependents to immediate family members.
Should this new change come into effect, health and care workers will need to come to the UK, work continuously for five years (i.e. leaving their spouses/children back in their home countries), obtain indefinite leave to remain (ILR), and then be able to sponsor their spouses/children to join them in the UK.
With respect to the Care Quality Commission, according to Home Office guidance on applying for sponsor licences, “nursing or care homes and similar businesses” must already be “inspected by Ofsted or the Care Quality Commission or equivalent bodies in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland” as a precondition to a sponsor licence application.
2. Raising the work visa salary threshold from £26,200 to £38,700 (not applicable to health and care worker visas)
Raising the general minimum salary requirement will inevitably price certain roles out from the list of eligible occupations for sponsorship. Furthermore, this proposed change comes off the back of the Home Office’s Statement of Changes (HC1160) on 12 April 2023, when the general minimum salary requirement was raised from £25,600 to £26,200. One should note that there are also job specific salary thresholds which apply in addition to the general salary threshold. It is unclear whether the Home Office will also raise the job specific salary thresholds.
3. Scrapping the Shortage Occupation List for work visas
The shortage occupation list allows work visa applicants who are being sponsored for a shortage occupation (e.g. chemical scientists, engineers, bricklayers, etc.) to be paid at an 80% discount of the minimum salary threshold for that particular job (i.e. the going rate). It also carries advantages in terms of a reduced application fee.
Scrapping the shortage occupation list simplifies the immigration rules when it comes to calculating the minimum salary requirement for work visas and as such is a welcomed change.
Upon scrapping the shortage occupation list, the hike in application fees will inevitably make it more expensive for businesses to sponsor their workers.
4. Raising the minimum income requirement for family visas from £18,600 to £38,700
Certain family members of British citizens, those with indefinite leave to remain (ILR), those with protection status, those with limited leave under the EU settlement scheme, and those who have leave as a Turkish businessperson or worker, can apply for family visas to come to the UK. As part of that application, there is a financial requirement. For initial entry clearance applications, the requirement is that the sponsor must have gross annual income of at least £18,600 (this is increased if there are dependent children applying). In some cases, one can supplement this income by holding savings of no less than £16,000 and additional savings of an amount equivalent to 2.5 times the difference between the threshold of £18,600 and the sponsor’s income. This means that where the applicant is relying solely on savings alone, they must have had £62,500 in savings held for at least six months before the date of application.
Considering the median household income in the UK is circa £30,500, this increase will price the majority of UK households out of being able to sponsor overseas family members for long-term UK visas. Furthermore, in cases where applicants are relying solely on cash savings (e.g. where they are not currently in employment), the threshold will increase from £62,500 to £112,750 (i.e. £16,000 + (2.5 x £38,700)).
5. Review of the Graduate visa route to “prevent abuse and protect the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system”
The Graduate visa is designed for overseas students who have completed their UK studies (at bachelor’s degree level and above) and allows them to stay for two years (three with a PhD) to work or start their own business in the UK. It remains to be seen whether Braverman’s previous recommendation to cut the period of stay for graduates to six months will be adopted or whether the route will be abolished altogether.
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Harry Qui Yu Yu is in the immigration law team, advising film stars and high net worth individuals on their UK immigration and nationality matters. He can provide the full range of private client and corporate immigration law advice.