UK Announces Major Changes to Legal Immigration Policies

| December 5, 2023
UK Announces Major Changes to Legal Immigration Policies

The United Kingdom’s (UK) government announced its plans to cut net migration and curb abuse of the immigration system.

On 4 December 2023, UK Home Office Secretary James Cleverly revealed the government’s new five-point plan to lower net migration numbers by about 300,000.

“I am taking decisive action to halt the drastic rise in our work visa routes and crack down on those who seek to take advantage of our hospitality,” Cleverly said via an official release.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data released in November 2023, the UK’s net migration in 2022, or the difference between the number of people arriving and leaving the country, is 672,000.

The figures are down from last year’s 607,000 and lower than the ONS estimate of 745,000 for the year ending in December 2022. However, Cleverly stressed that it is “still far too high.”

He added: “Far more must be done to bring those numbers down so British workers are not undercut and our public services put under less strain.”

Changes to UK immigration policies

The UK’s latest net migration number reflects more migrants from outside the European Union (EU). They are mostly student, work, and dependent visa holders.

Below are the significant changes that will take effect in Spring 2024.

Higher salary threshold for work visas

Skilled foreign workers applying for a UK visa must earn £38,700 yearly. The new threshold is an increase of nearly 50 percent from £26,200.

The new salary threshold is higher than a full-time UK worker’s current median average salary. The only exemption is for health and care workers and roles on national pay scales, such as teachers.

Increased salary threshold for family visas

Individuals applying under the family visa category must also meet the same salary threshold for work visas.

It means UK citizens who want to bring their partner to the country will need to earn at least £38,700. The current family visa salary threshold of £18,600 has not been adjusted since 2012.

Raised immigration health surcharge 

Migrants will pay more to access the state-run National Health Service (NHS). The increase is about 66 percent, from £624 to £1,035, to ensure that public services are not taken advantage of.

The higher contribution is in addition to the National Insurance contributions deducted from migrants’ wages to cover healthcare.

More restrictions on dependents

Health and Care visa holders can no longer bring their dependents, such as partners and children under 18, to the UK.

The latest ONS data revealed approximately 120,000 dependents that accompanied 100,000 care and senior care workers in the year ending September 2023.

Only 25 percent of dependents are estimated to be employed. It means many rely on public services instead of contributing to the economy.

Starting January 2024, the government will only allow international students on postgraduate courses designated as research programs to bring dependents to the UK. This new rule was released in May 2023.

Regulated care providers

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) will start to regulate care firms in England that plan to sponsor migrants under the Health and Care route.

The commission regulates all health and social care services in England. It ensures the quality and safety of care in hospitals, dentists, ambulances, care homes, and care provided in people’s homes.

No more discount for shortage occupation

Roles listed on the Shortage Occupation List will lose its 20 percent discount on salary requirements.

The Shortage Occupation List includes jobs in short supply in the UK labor market. Such roles have more relaxed eligibility criteria for sponsored work visa applications.

The government will replace it with the Immigration Salary List, which will continue to have a general threshold discount. However, the Migration Advisory Committee will review the list against increased salary thresholds to reduce the number of jobs on the list.

Graduate visa in review

The Migration Advisory Committee will also review the Graduate visa route to prevent abuse and ensure it benefits the country.

A graduate visa allows students who have already completed their studies to stay and work in the UK for two years or three years for graduates with doctoral qualifications.

The government already announced early this year that it will forbid international students from switching to work visas before they complete their course starting in January 2024.

Supporting the British workforce

The UK government maintains that changes to the immigration policy support the plan to build up the local workforce and support British workers.

The government’s ‘Back to Work’ plan aims to promote health, reduce dependency on benefits, and facilitate sustainable employment.

This includes investing in programs that teach adults valuable skills and prepare them for the future economy.