The United Kingdom is set to implement stricter measures for employing overseas workers, a move aimed at reducing immigration numbers by approximately 300,000 annually. Announced by Home Secretary James Cleverly, the new regulations will increase the salary threshold for skilled worker visas from £26,200 to £38,700. Additionally, starting next April, care workers will be prohibited from bringing their family members to the UK.
This decision, part of a broader strategy by Rishi Sunak’s government to address immigration issues, also includes the elimination of salary discrepancies between overseas and UK workers in sectors facing labor shortages. Furthermore, the income requirement for spousal visas will see an increase.
Cleverly’s announcement, which comes as the government prepares for an expected general election next year, is a response to rising migration levels in the UK. However, it has been met with criticism from various sectors. Employers are concerned about potential increases in costs and exacerbation of labor shortages, while unions have condemned the restrictions on family members of care staff.
Firstly, we’re reforming the Health and Social Care Visa to prevent overseas care workers from bringing dependants to the UK.
And we’re requiring social care firms in England to be CQC registered to sponsor visas, putting an end to abuse of the system. pic.twitter.com/HHolRzQq4I
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) December 4, 2023
Neil Carberry, CEO of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, described the new measures as a major tightening that could harm smaller, regional businesses and send a negative message globally. He also pointed out the overshadowing of economic interests by the internal politics of the Conservative party.
The changes will affect British citizens and UK residents as well, who will now need to meet the £38,700 income threshold to bring a non-UK family member to the country. This amount is nearly double the minimum wage.
Healthcare sector representatives have expressed deep concerns about the impact of these measures. Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, stressed the importance of maintaining the UK as an attractive workplace for overseas health and care staff. Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison, the primary union for social care workers, labeled the plans as “cruel” and warned of a disastrous impact on the health and social care sectors, as migrants may opt for more welcoming countries.
Cleverly stated that health and social care workers would be exempt from the salary threshold increase to address chronic shortages in these sectors. However, only those employers regulated by the Care Quality Commission will be allowed to sponsor care worker visas, a move intended to prevent exploitation of the system.
The Migration Advisory Committee has previously recommended abolishing the shortage occupation list, citing concerns about wage suppression and worker exploitation. Under current regulations, skilled workers filling jobs on the shortage occupation list have been subject to a lower salary threshold. However, the standard threshold has not been adjusted for inflation since its establishment in 2021.
These changes are expected to have a significant impact on overseas hiring in mid-skilled jobs, like chefs, which have seen increased reliance on the visa system post-Brexit. Cleverly also announced a review of the shortage occupation list, likely resulting in fewer occupations being included, and a review of the graduate route to prevent abuse.