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Home Secretary announces that UK Skilled Worker salary threshold will be increased to £38,700

Home Secretary announces that UK Skilled Worker salary threshold will be increased to £38,700Photo from Unsplash

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Once again, it seems that immigration is a major topic of political conversation in the UK. Indeed, it isn’t too difficult to see where much of the recent impetus may have come from for the Government to announce further major changes, aimed at driving down migration to the UK.

Only as recently as November, official data was released showing that net migration had gone up by a record 745,000 over the course of 2022.

Ever since then, and amid additional political controversy surrounding the sacking of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary that same month, Conservative MPs have exerted considerable pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to do more to reduce net migration to the UK.

On Monday 4th December, we learned how the Government will seek to accomplish that. Ms Braverman’s successor as Home Secretary, James Cleverley, threw the covers off a five-point plan, aimed at reducing net migration numbers that the new appointee said were still “far too high”.

A big jump in the required Skilled Worker visa salary – but also other headline-grabbing changes

The plan unveiled by Mr Cleverley included a number of eye-catching changes – not least the surprising move to put up the minimum income requirement for family visas to £38,700, a development that was the focus of much initial reaction.

However, that £38,700 figure was important in another sense, as it was also chosen as the new minimum salary for skilled overseas workers – a massive jump from the current £26,200.

This change, set to take effect from the spring of 2024, was framed by the Government as “encouraging businesses to look to British talent first and invest in their workforce, helping us to deter employers from over-relying on migration, while bringing salaries in line with the average full-time salary for these types of jobs.”

What are the new immigration rules in the UK for 2024?

In its “plan to cut net migration” as laid out by Home Secretary James Cleverley on 4th December 2023, the UK Government said it would make the following changes to UK visas and immigration:

  • Increasing the minimum salary requirement for Skilled Worker visas, from the current £26,200 a year to £38,700 a year
  • Putting up the minimum income requirement for British citizens who wish to bring a foreign partner or family member to live with them in the UK, from £18,600 a year to £38,700 a year
  • Banning care workers from bringing family dependants to the UK
  • Scrapping the 20% salary discount for jobs on the shortage occupations list (SOL); as the rules presently stand, migrants who come to the UK in order to take on a job on the SOL can be paid just 80% of the usual going rate to qualify for a Skilled Worker visa
  • Increasing the immigration health surcharge (IHS) – the annual fee that visa holders in the UK are required to pay, in order to use the National Health Service (NHS) – from £624 to £1,035

In addition, the Government has launched a review of the Graduate visa route, which is the visa category that enables someone who has successfully completed a course in the UK to stay in the country for at least two years afterwards.

The Government had already announced that it would limit the numbers of students who are entitled to bring family members with them to the UK. This change takes effect in January 2024, and means that a foreign-national student will no longer be entitled to bring dependants with them to the UK, unless they are on a postgraduate research course.

What else do we know about changes to the Skilled Worker visa category?

The Government has said that its full package of modifications to the immigration system, as announced on 4th December – not only including the salary change for the Skilled Worker visa – will bring about the “biggest ever reduction in net migration. Together, this package will mean around 300,000 people who came to the UK last year would now not be able to come.”

However, as is so often the case with high-profile changes to UK immigration policy, there is a lot of “devil in the detail”. Various exemptions call into question the level of impact the increased Skilled Worker visa salary requirement will have in achieving the Government’s stated goal of driving down net migration.

We already know, for example, that health and care workers – who account for nearly half of people on UK work visas – will be exempt from this rise. An exemption will also apply to people on national pay scales, such as teachers.

The sharp rise in the general salary threshold for UK skilled worker migrants perhaps distracts slightly from the reality that only a modest proportion of long-term holders of the Skilled Worker visa will actually need to comply with the £38,700 figure.

Of the 208,000 Skilled Worker visas that were issued to main applicants in the 12 months to September 2023, nearly half of them were granted to care workers and senior care workers, who the Government has exempted from the latest increase. A further 20% of those visas were given to workers in teaching or health roles who are not impacted by the rise either, due to their salaries being determined by nationally agreed pay scales.

This leaves a remaining 30% of Skilled Worker visas – of those issued in the year ending September – that were in relation to other jobs, mainly in the private sector. As The Migration Observatory pointed out in its analysis of recent Home Office immigration data, even many of the foreign nationals employed in these remaining roles already earn in excess of the new £38,700 threshold.

All of this is before one accounts for the possibility of any further exemptions that may emerge at a later date. So, while the rise from £26,200 to £38,700 for the Skilled Worker visa minimum salary requirement is a dramatic one, in the case of most of the top occupations for which work visas were received over the past year, this change would not have had an overly heavy impact. The Migration Observatory’s Ben Brindle and Madeleine Sumption did, however, state that middle-income roles – such as chefs and butchers, whose salaries tend to hover at around the current salary threshold of £26,200 – would take the brunt of the impact of the changes.

What is the minimum wage in the UK for Skilled Workers in 2023?

A foreign national who wishes to come to the UK and work on a Skilled Worker visa, and who does so before the change to the salary threshold in the spring of 2024, presently has much less daunting salary criteria to fulfil.

The minimum salary they will be required to be paid for the type of work they will be doing, will be whichever is the highest of the following three options:

  • £26,200 per year
  • £10.75 per hour
  • The “going rate” for the type of work they will be doing

The prospective employer of the Skilled Worker visa applicant will need to pay them at least the minimum wage under UK law. They will also need to ensure compliance with the rules in the UK for the number of hours worked per week.

If the applicant’s employer is not able to meet those requirements, the prospective worker’s application for the Skilled Worker visa will be refused.

As matters presently stand, if a would-be applicant does not fulfil the usual salary criteria for a Skilled Worker visa, and they do not work in healthcare or education, but their job is eligible, it might still be possible for them to apply for this visa. They must still, however, be paid a minimum of £10.75 an hour.

An applicant can be paid between 70% and 90% of the usual “going rate” for their job, provided that their salary is a minimum of £20,960 per year and they satisfy one of the below criteria:

  • Their job is in a shortage occupation
  • They are under 26 years of age, studying or a recent graduate, or in professional training
  • They have a science, technology, engineering, or maths (STEM) PhD level qualification that is relevant to their job (if they have a relevant PhD level qualification in any other subject, their salary is required to be a minimum of £23,580)
  • They have a postdoctoral position in science or higher education

Potential applicants for the Skilled Worker visa whose job is on the shortage occupation list (SOL) – the roles on this list being ones where there is a recognised shortage of workers in the UK – can currently be paid 80% of the job’s usual going rate. They are also able to pay a lower fee to apply for their visa, than is the case for other applicants.

Seek advice and guidance on your immigration situation from our award-winning specialists

With so much else yet to be revealed about the latest changes to the Skilled Worker visa category – not least when exactly in the spring of 2024 the new salary threshold will take effect, as well as whether any further exemptions will be introduced – we can understand you feeling slightly confused by the situation, whether you are an employer or prospective applicant for this visa.

Enquire to our award-winning team of experts in UK immigration law here at Cranbrook Legal, and we can advise and guide you in relation to your options.

You might, for example, wish to know more about how you can apply for this visa or sponsor a worker on the Skilled Worker route prior to the newly announced changes coming into force. Alternatively, you may wish to learn more about the situation that may apply after the changes have been brought in – in which case, we can give you the necessary clarity about your options. This, in turn, will enable you to make a suitably informed decision for your circumstances. It is a straightforward process to reach out to our central London-based team; please feel free to give us a call on 0208 215 0053 now, or to complete and submit our online contact form to arrange a free consultation with one of our qualified solicitors.

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