On 4 December 2023, the Home Secretary announced a five point plan with the aim of reducing net immigration. The plan follows reported figures of record net legal migration of 745,000 in 2022, and targets a 300,000 reduction in that number.

In this insight we summarise the key changes being proposed and what they may mean for employers. However, the full extent of the impact is unlikely to be known until the detail of the proposals is published.

Key announcements

Increase in minimum salary requirements for the “Skilled Worker Route”

The headline announcement is that from Spring 2024 the general minimum salary requirement for skilled workers will rise from £26,200 to £38,700. The new level is approximately equivalent to the UK’s median wage. This higher level is only likely to affect new applicants under the “Skilled Worker” route who are applying for or renewing permission after Spring 2024. 

Changes to the “Health and Care Visa”

Importantly, the £38,700 minimum salary requirement will not apply to those already working in or coming to the UK on “Health and Care Visas”, as their roles will still be on the Shortage Occupational List. However, the announcement proposes a ban on “Health and Care Visa” holders working as care workers bringing dependants to the UK under this route. It seems likely that the ban will apply to new care worker applicants and to those seeking to renew their “Health and Care Visa” after the new rules have come into force.

Under the proposed rules, employers who wish to recruit using the Health and Care Visa will need to be undertaking activities regulated by the CQC.

Transformation the Shortage Occupation List (SOL)

The SOL will be renamed as the Immigration Salary List (ISL). The Home Secretary will ask the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to review and reduce the number of roles currently on the SOL. 

The benefit of a role being on the Shortage Occupation List is that employers can offer a discounted salary compared to that required under the Skilled Worker route (see point 1 above). In most cases, employers can offer the higher of a reduced minimum salary or a salary at 80% of a job’s usual “going rate”. However, the announcement confirmed that the government will remove the 20% discount applied to the “going rate” for roles on the list, meaning that ISL visa holders will need to be paid at least the “going rate” for a role on the ISL.

Family visas

The announcement sets out plans to increase the minimum income thresholds that British citizens and settled workers need to earn if they want their family members to join them in the UK from £18,600 to £38,700. This change is expected to be implemented from Spring 2024. 

Review of the Graduate Route

The Home Secretary had asked the MAC to review the graduate route, which allows students to remain in the UK after graduation.

Other planned changes include increasing the health surcharge payable by applicants for visas by 66% up from £624 to £1,035.

What does this mean for you?

When implemented, the plans announced will impact significantly on employers who recruit from overseas. Such employers should review the way they use international recruitment and assess the impact that the changes will have on their ability to recruit candidates who require permission to work in the UK.

Many of the proposed changes will directly or indirectly impact on organisations providing care services. The changes may make it more difficult to fill those roles in the future. The proposed ban on overseas care workers bringing dependants to the UK is likely to deter those with children and caring responsibilities from applying to work in the care sector. We understand that the proposed change will not affect those in the health sector but is aimed at the social care sector. How this proposal will be implemented practically, and the impact that may have remains unclear.

The impact of the plans on those care workers who already work under a “Health and Care Visa” and who currently have dependants with them in the UK is unclear, but it is likely to become an issue if renewal of such a visa is sought under the new rules.

The changes have already been criticised by employer representatives and trade unions, and the changes may be subject to legal challenge.

The detail of the changes will become clearer when the amended rules are published in due course and the position is therefore subject to change.

NHS Employers has produced a set of FAQs on the new rules which is set out on its website here.

How Capsticks can help

Capsticks has significant experience in supporting employers with international recruitment and immigration issues. If you would like access to advice, training or need further guidance on these changes (either generally or in relation to a specific case) please contact Lee Carroll or Nicole Johnson.