Major Salary Increases to be Introduced to the Skilled Worker Immigration Category
The Home Secretary made an important announcement on Monday 4th December about qualification for the Skilled Worker visa.
Qualification for entry as a Skilled Worker will require a salary of £38,700 to be paid per annum to employees in future. This is the minimum salary necessary; it will also be necessary to meet the Standard Occupation Classification salary as set within the Immigration Rules, which will be amended. Other important changes were announced at the same time. Health and Care Workers will be exempt from this new salary requirement but unable to bring family members with them to the UK in future. The current 20% salary discount allowed by virtue of the Shortage Occupation List is to be ended. The minimum salary required for British citizens and settled people will increase, also to £38,700. There is to be a general review of the Graduate route. The Home Secretary described this as “…the most substantial package of legal immigration reforms the country has ever seen.” All changes are set to happen on a date to be announced in Spring 2024.
The intention of the change is to reduce net migration rather than address any specific issue within the current system. There is careful consideration undertaken by the Migration Advisory Committee in respect of the need for migration in specific occupations in the UK and their maxim that only “skilled, shortage and sensible” roles should qualify for sponsorship has held sway for many years. This appears a return to restricting qualification for Skilled Worker visas based on salary, with some occupations simply not paying salaries high enough for sponsorship to happen. The Home Secretary advised in response to a question, that a formal cap on the number of Skilled Worker visas, last seen during Theresa May’s Prime Ministership in 2016, was rejected because it would be too difficult to implement.
It is important to note that a lot of the most relevant information will be in the detail of the Immigration Rules next year. We don’t know what the position will for those currently in the UK with Skilled Worker or Family visas whose salary falls below this. In the past, there have been provisions within the Immigration Rules to ensure individuals would be able to qualify for extensions of stay based on a salary which previously met the requirements, which is to be hoped for here. It is interesting to note measures which have not been adopted here; re-introducing the Resident Labour Market Test, for example, would specifically have restricted recruitment for roles which are not in shortage.
What can employers do to anticipate these changes? I would suggest three key actions can help to prepare for these changes next year:
- Review all roles in which Skilled Worker Certificates are currently issued and assess whether any do pay a salary below £38,700. How could such employees be sourced in future without utilising the Skilled Worker immigration route?
- Consider whether employees who are sponsored to work in the UK may need support and clarification of the requirements at an early stage. My experience is that misinformation regarding immigration changes, is unfortunately, extremely common and can gain credence amongst employees quickly. Publishing information internally about this can prove highly effective and prevent misunderstandings.
- Review the changes to requirements carefully before these are introduced.
We can expect more commentary and changes to immigration law as the General Election date approaches in 2024. Unlike many such announcements, this one is indeed a substantial one and something which those involved in the sponsorship process need to anticipate.