On 4 December 2023 the Home Secretary, James Cleverly, announced future changes to visa rules in what he described as a “five-point plan” to reduce immigration. The Home Office published more information on 21 December, including some changes to what had initially been announced.
What are the five changes?
- Social care workers will not be allowed to bring dependants (that is, partners and children) on their visa.
- The baseline minimum salary to be sponsored for a Skilled Worker visa will rise from £26,200 to £38,700 (but not for the Health and Care Worker visa, which includes social care, or for education workers on national pay scales).
- Changes to the shortage occupation list to significantly reduce the number of jobs where it will be possible to sponsor overseas workers below the baseline minimum salary (which is the main purpose of the list).
- The minimum income normally required to sponsor someone for a spouse/partner visa will rise in stages from £18,600 to £29,000 and ultimately around £38,700.
- The Migration Advisory Committee will review the Graduate visa, a two-year unsponsored work permit for overseas graduates of British universities.
When will the changes happen?
The Home Secretary initially said they would all take effect “from next spring”, except for the Graduate visa review. There are now different timelines for different measures:
- Banning newly arriving care workers from bringing immediate family will happen “as soon as possible in the new year”.
- The Skilled Worker minimum salary increase will happen in April 2024.
- Changes to the shortage occupation list will happen no earlier than April 2024.
- The spouse/partner visa minimum income will first increase to £29,000 in “spring 2024”; to around £34,500 at an unspecified time (likely later in 2024); and finally to around £38,700 “in early 2025”.
- The Graduate visa review will begin in January (and may run until “late 2024”).
Will there be advance warning of the exact date for the changes?
All these measures would need to be implemented in statements of changes to the Immigration Rules (except beginning the Graduate visa review). Statements of changes must be laid before Parliament and are therefore published.
Legally, there is no minimum length of time that statements need to be laid before coming into force. By convention, there is usually at least 21 days between the statement being laid and the changes in it taking effect (and often longer in practice). It is possible that the changes to care worker dependants could happen more quickly than this convention suggests if the intention is to implement them in early January.
Separately from the formal procedure, the Government says it will announce further policy details next year. This could include more specific implementation dates.
Will MPs be voting to approve, reject or amend the changes?
Unlikely. Changes to the Immigration Rules take effect automatically unless either the House of Commons or House of Lords actively votes to annul them within 40 days. Usually there is no vote and the Government is not obliged to make time for one in the Commons even if a motion against the changes is tabled (this can be done as an Early Day Motion).
If there is a vote on changes to the Immigration Rules, the proposed changes cannot be amended. They can either be accepted or voted down in their entirety.
No further legislation is needed.
Why has the Government decided to make these changes?
Ministers believe that immigration is “far too high”. Net migration (the number of immigrants minus the number of emigrants) was provisionally estimated to be 745,000 in the 12 months ending on 31 December 2022.
The Home Office said in a press release that 300,000 of the people who moved to the UK last year would not have been able to come had these changes been in place then. It has since published the analysis relevant to this figure. Of the potential 300,000 reduction, around 140,000 comes from forthcoming changes to student dependant rules announced separately in May 2023.
My constituent will be extending their spouse/partner visa after spring 2024 – will the £29,000 threshold apply to them, or only to first-time visa applicants?
Only to first-time applicants. A Government spokesperson initially said the higher threshold would apply to visa extensions, but the Home Office announced on 21 December that it would not: “Those who already have a family visa within the five-year partner route, or who apply before the minimum income threshold is raised, will continue to have their applications assessed against the current income requirement and will not be required to meet the increased threshold”.
People applying for permanent residence (formally known as ‘settlement’ or ‘indefinite leave to remain’) after being on a spouse/partner visa are also required to meet the minimum income rule. As worded, this exemption also appears to cover them. The Home Office says “full details of transitional provisions will be set out next year”.
Can both the applicant’s and the sponsor’s income be counted towards the £18,600 / £29,000 required?
When applying for the initial visa from outside the UK, only the sponsor’s income can be counted towards the minimum income threshold. For extensions and permanent residence, both incomes count. People generally need to provide evidence of having earned that income for the past six months (although the exact rules are complicated).
There are also some options for people who do not earn the minimum income, allowing them to qualify for the visa by other means such as by using savings above £16,000 or in exceptional circumstances. The Home Office has said this will still be possible once the threshold rises.
Will there be changes to the amount of savings needed as an alternative to income?
Under the current rules, the amount of savings required would automatically increase as the headline income threshold rises. If nothing in the rules were to change other than the income threshold rising to £29,000, that would push up the maximum savings required from £62,500 to £88,500. But there has been no announcement about this either way and the Government may not have decided on the appropriate level of savings: it is reportedly “consulting over whether to increase it”.
As with the main income rule, people generally need to have had the required amount of savings in their account(s) for six months before applying.
Do any comparable countries apply minimum income rules to spouse visas?
Many countries require proof of sufficient economic resources. The way the requirement is expressed and assessed varies, making exact comparisons difficult. Where countries do express the requirement as a minimum income, such as in Belgium or Norway, Library research has so far not found any examples of the threshold being set above or close to £38,700 (the level the UK Government ultimately intends to reach).
Opponents of the minimum income policy often cite a ranking called the Migrant Integration Policy Index or MIPEX. In 2020, the UK was placed second from bottom among 56 countries for ease of family reunion. The family reunion ranking takes economic resources requirements into account, along with several other factors, in comparing the various countries.
What about the higher £38,700 salary threshold for the Skilled Worker visa – will that apply to people already here on that visa?
No. “Those already in the Skilled work route, and applications made before the rules change, will not be subject to the new £38,700 salary threshold when they change employment, extend, or settle”, according to the Minister for Legal Migration.
In certain circumstances, people can be paid a little less than the baseline minimum salary and still be sponsored for a Skilled Worker visa. This includes “new entrants” to the labour market, such as people aged under 26 and post-doctoral researchers. There has been no indication that this would change, except for the significant revisions to the shortage occupation list.-https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9920/