On the 22nd of November 2023, the UK government announced that foreign Health and Care workers will be limited to bringing over just one dependent with them to the UK. This came after news of general immigration fee increases, including significant increases to the Immigration Health Surcharge. On the 4th of December 2023, the Home Secretary announced much wider reaching measures to cut net migration, making sponsoring employees from overseas even more challenging. Alex Christen and Megan Huws from our Immigration team explain these recent changes and their impact.
Due to pressures to reduce the number of migrants entering the UK, the government is introducing a range of measures designed to cut net migration from its current levels. These measures include:
These measures come off the back of changes declared earlier this year also designed to cut net migration, including a ban on students from bringing dependants with them to the UK which will come into effect in January 2024, as well as the significant jump in the annual immigration health surcharge from £624 per year to £1035 per year, also coming into force in the New Year.
No exact dates have been set for the latest proposed changes, but the government has said the changes will take effect from ‘Spring 2024’.
The statistics show that net migration is now in excess of 700,000 per year, which is a record high (although it is difficult to do like for like comparisons between now and the pre-Brexit era).
Ahead of next year’s general election, the government is clearly under pressure to make good on its promises to reduce migration to the UK. These announcements also come at a time when the questionable Rwanda scheme proposals are facing set-backs, leading many to assume the current proposals are politically motivated rather than focused on driving the UK economy forward.
The government’s rhetoric continues to be that it is “tackling exploitation across the immigration system” and stopping UK businesses from “over relying on migration” and focusing on growing local talent. It also seeks to stop dependents (who the government estimates “don’t work, but still use public services”) from coming to the UK.
Sadly, at no point in the government’s announcement does it praise the invaluable work done by migrant workers, and the contribution they give to our economy.
Limiting dependants and raising minimum salary levels are quick and easy ways to reduce migration, but it remains to be seen as to whether these plans will have the desired effect of boosting the UK economy, or whether it will simply serve to make the UK less attractive (and more inhospitable) to international talent.
The one dependent per care worker rule, will undoubtedly deter care workers from coming to the UK and supporting our health care system, despite what government announcements claim.
The substantial increase in minimum salaries for skilled workers is designed to make it harder to sponsor people in skilled roles, and the intention is for businesses to recruit from the local labour market instead. However, Brexit has shown just how hard this is in practice, and the incredible struggles sectors such as health care have experienced in retaining staffing levels.
The changes will not be retrospective so anyone sponsored now can be sponsored on the current minimum salary thresholds. It remains to be seen whether transitional arrangements will be put in place for renewal applications for existing sponsored employees, although the government has said that existing visa holders will not be disadvantaged by the changes. It is also unclear whether the other existing salary discounts (i.e. for ‘new entrants’ or those with a PhD relevant to the role) will continue to apply.
However, the new minimum salary levels which are due into effect in Spring 2024, will mean many employers are priced out of offering roles to overseas nationals.
These proposals are undoubtedly unsettling for sponsors and sponsored employees. Some of the changes are being misinterpreted – for example, some worry that the limit on dependents will apply to all visa categories and not just student and health and care worker visas. This is understandable, and we encourage sponsors to speak to their staff and explain what the changes are to dispel some of these misunderstandings.
If employers are looking to sponsor roles that won’t meet the new salary thresholds in the Spring, they might want to consider recruiting now (or even bringing forward their sponsor licence applications).
The devil will be in the detail, and we await clarification over the coming months.
If you would like to discuss these changes or require bespoke immigration advice, get in touch with our team of expert immigration lawyers.