Out-Law News

UK government unveils 5-point-plan to cut net migration

Shara Pledger tells HRNews about a raft of immigration changes set to affect employers from spring 2024

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  • Transcript

    The government has announced a 5-point plan to cut migration levels and curb abuse of the immigration system. In a statement, the Home Secretary, James Cleverley, said it will deliver the biggest ever reduction in net migration and will mean around 300,000 people who came to the UK last year would now not be able to come. The changes will impact employers across the board who are battling to recruit the skilled and specialist talent they need. We’ll speak to an immigration specialist about the plan, and the impact it will have.

    These are changes set to be introduced in Spring 2024 and they follow the release of the net migration numbers at the end of November 2023 which showed levels were at an all-time high. In summary, the five-point plan involves:

    1 Raising minimum salary threshold to qualify for a Skilled Worker visa from the current figure of £26,200 to £38,700. It marks a change in direction for the post-Brexit immigration system which was intended to make it easier for employers to recruit skilled workers.

    2 Banning health and care workers bringing family dependants to the UK. It comes against the backdrop of an estimated 120,000 visas granted to the family dependents of care workers last year which the government wants to cut drastically. 

    3 Ending firms being able to pay workers 20% less than the going rate for jobs on a shortage occupation list. It means employers will now need to potentially increase their salary banding for particularly in demand roles to £38,700. 

    4 Raising the minimum income required by British nationals or those settled in the UK who wish to bring dependant family members to the UK for family visas from £18,600 to £38,700. It’s a huge jump which critics say will hit lower-income British citizens, in particular. 

    5 Reviewing the Graduate visa route. This could be very significant, depending on exactly what they do which isn’t clear yet. This route was introduced in July 2021 as part of the UK's post Brexit immigration system and allows successful applicants to stay in the UK to work unrestricted for up to two years after completing a bachelor's degree in the UK, or 3 years for holder of a PhD. We’ll have a separate programme on this for you shortly.

    So, let’s get a view on this. Shara Pledger is an immigration specialist and earlier she joined me by video-link to discuss this. I put it to Shara that this is a plan tied to a mission to cut net migration:

    Shara Pledger: “Absolutely. Everything that the government has announced, and will continue to announce, I'm sure, over the next few weeks and months is all aimed at the idea of driving down net migration. We already knew that the figures for the last year for net migration were very high and then in November we had this incident where the previously published figures were actually revised making them significantly higher again. So we really are at record numbers now compared to what we've seen in previous years which, to an extent, is to be expected given the slight dips that we’ve seen during the COVID years, for example, where not so many people were able to travel. We're now in a period, politically, where the government has obviously got a vested interest in making sure that they really get to grips with what they see as being a key issue for the British public and so we are seeing these different measures which are affecting different groups of migrants, different parts of society, and all aimed at just driving down those numbers.”

    Joe Glavina: “Is it the case, Shara, with all these announcements, that some sectors are going to be more affected than others?”

    Shara Pledger: “I mean, truthfully, it affects absolutely everybody who currently does, or in the future could, employ a migrant worker, it's just different ways that those changes will take effect and have an impact. Health and social care is a really great example of an area which is being specifically targeted and that's in a direct response to the fact that that really big surge in numbers that we've seen over the last 12 months is almost directly related to the fact that there has been this massive increase in health and social care. The way that the Home Office and the government are deciding to address that is to actually restrict the dependents that they are permitted to have in the UK. We've seen really, really big increases in the number of dependents, particularly for those holding Health and Care visas, so restricting the people that they can bring with them is just a very quick and easy way to bring those numbers down. Elsewhere in other sectors, the changes are more linked to the economy, effectively. So it will be those really big increases that we're seeing for minimum salary rates. That will be profound. We're seeing an increase from a minimum salary that currently sits just above sort of £26,000 all the way up to the very high £30,000s. So it is going to be a really, really big difference for a lot of industries that currently look to migrant staff to try and fill their skills gaps and understandably, probably, the keenest effects will be felt outside of the capital where wages generally are lower, and also in smaller businesses, again, where wages tend to be perhaps lower than the median.”

    Joe Glavina: “So, lots of changes in lots of different areas so when are these changes going to take effect?”

    Shara Pledger: “At the moment we don't actually know when some of these changes will take effect which is very frustrating for employers in trying to work out what action should they take, and when should they take it. The government announcements are all around spring but, unfortunately, that can mean different things at times. So we've seen announcements that have been planned for spring crop up anytime from February all the way through to June so it's impossible really to know exactly when all of this will take effect. If there is an ongoing plan to sponsor a particular individual, there's no reason why that should necessarily be interrupted, and we certainly don't expect that when any of these changes are brought in, they will have a direct impact on a person who is already sponsored for the status that they hold at that time. What remains unclear, however, and is very tricky to manage, is knowing what it will mean for an extension, or for settlement after that, because it's all very well and good sponsoring somebody now at a salary rate which is manageable for the business and makes sense within the market if, in two, three, four years’ time, or whatever it happens to be, there will suddenly need to be this huge increase in order to retain that individual. So it does make it really challenging, I think, for employers to actually make a plan based on the scant details we've received so far.”

    Joe Glavina: “Finally, what’s your message to employers right now? What should they be doing?” 

    Shara Pledger: “I think right now there are two things that a lot of employers should really be thinking about. Number one is the long-term plan for their future recruitment. We've certainly seen a lot of organisations who did not previously hold sponsor licences going ahead, making that application, and getting that capability to sponsor a migrant in the post-Brexit world. Now, we don't expect that industry will be able to just completely turn the taps off on that source of talent but there will need to be a potentially much more nuanced approach to sponsorship in future to work out what does the business really need and, crucially, what can the budget for recruitment really afford?”

    If you would like to read up on the detail of the government’s 5-point plan then you can. Details are available from the government’s website and we have included a link to it in the transcript of this programme for you.


    - Link to Government press release: ‘Home Secretary unveils plan to cut net migration’


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