Out-Law News 2 min. read

Government net migration plans ‘squeeze’ legal immigration routes

The recently announced government package designed to cut the number of migrant workers and their dependants entering the UK will squeeze legal migration routes, particularly those for workers in the health and social care sector, according to an immigration expert at Pinsent Masons. 

Home secretary James Cleverly announced measures on Monday as the government aims to deliver the biggest ever reduction to net migration. The five-point plan is “more robust” than any previous stance on migration, according to Cleverly.

The measures will see the base salary requirement for a skilled worker visa rise from £26,200 to £38,700 and an increase to the minimum income for sponsors of family visas to £38,700 from £18,600. Corporate immigration expert Shara Pledger believes these to be "significant changes which will undoubtedly have real impact on application numbers in some visa categories”. The outlined plan also includes tighter rules for health and care visa workers, who will no longer be able to bring dependants to the UK.

Pledger commented: “The government cannot get away from the fact that health and social care roles have lower salaries than the new £38,700 minimum income requirement, so those jobs will be exempt from increases. Instead, we have this alternative restriction solely for the health and social care sectors to prevent workers from bringing their dependants with them to the UK. This will no doubt make the UK a less attractive migration option for some workers in the sector, who will feel unable to leave their family behind to pursue a job opportunity here.”

The plan will tighten rules for health and care visa workers by banning these people from bringing dependants to the UK. Further measures include changes to use of the shortage occupation list – a classification that currently allows employers to pay 20% less than the going rate for jobs such as vets, welders, architects, and engineers.

Student visas will also be impacted with the new package of measures building on the already tough action taken to reduce the number of students bringing dependants to the UK. Further dependant restrictions will come into force in the new year, and the popular graduate route, which permits students to remain in the UK for two years after studies to gain work experience, is under review.

The announcement follows pressure from Conservative MPs on prime minister Rishi Sunk and his government to decrease net migration – the difference between those entering and leaving the UK. It comes as official figures released in November showed net migration increased to a record 745,000 in 2022. Home secretary James Cleverly told MPs on Monday that “migration is far too high and needs to come down… enough is enough. “

The government plan aims to encourage businesses to look to British talent first and invest in their work force, deterring employers from “over-relying” on migration.

In a government announcement, Cleverly said: “It is clear that net migration remains far too high. By leaving the European Union we gained control over who can come to the UK, but far more must be done to bring those numbers down so British workers are not undercut and our public services put under less strain.

“My plan will deliver the biggest ever reduction in net migration and will mean around 300,000 people who came to the UK last year would not have been able to do so. 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.”

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