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New UK immigration rules for 2024: changes, salary thresholds, and more

New UK immigration rules for 2024: changes, salary thresholds, and more

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In November 2023, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the record number of 745,000 migrants who moved to the United Kingdom in 2022 was too high, following months of public debate.

The UK Home Secretary James Cleverly announced in December that he was taking "robust action" to reduce authorized immigration. Starting in 2024, Cleverly said, immigrants would have to earn more to qualify for a work visa in the UK. He also announced it would become harder for migrants to bring family members to the UK.

Following months of working out the details, the new UK immigration rules went into effect throughout early 2024, with changes to the Skilled Worker visa becoming effective on April 4, 2024. This represents the most significant changes since the UK left the European Union. Understandably, there are a lot of questions about the changes and what they mean for migrant workers and employers. Here is everything you need to know about the new UK immigration rules—the changes, the new salary thresholds, and more.

What are the new immigration rules in the UK in 2024?

The most significant change in the 2024 UK immigration rules is the substantial increase in minimum salary requirements for the Skilled Worker visa.

The salary threshold was £26,200 per year, but it has now jumped to £38,700 annually. This effectively excludes many mid-range skilled positions that previously fell within the eligible range.

The new rules also introduce the concept of a "going rate" for specific occupations. Previously, Skilled Worker visa applicants in occupations facing a labor shortage could qualify based on a 20% discount on the median salary. This discount has been eliminated, and applicants must now meet the median salary level, or going rate, for their role based on the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) list. This shift means some roles previously considered "shortage occupations" may no longer qualify for a Skilled Worker visa if the median salary doesn't meet the £38,700 threshold.

The changes aim to attract highly skilled individuals in high-demand professions and encourage employers to offer competitive salaries. However, some are concerned it could hinder businesses in specific sectors and limit the talent pool for skilled positions that don't necessarily command the higher end of the SOC salary range.

Changes for the UK spouse visa

New rules also affect spouses or partners of UK visa holders. Previously, spouses and partners could be sponsored for a Spouse Visa if they met the minimum income requirement of £18,600 annually. This has been raised to £29,000 per year. PM Sunak has also indicated a further increase to an estimated £38,700 by early 2025, effectively more than doubling the threshold in just over one year.

In addition, a new rule, effective March 11, 2024, restricts healthcare and care workers on specific visas from bringing their families (partners and children) to the United Kingdom. This policy change applies to individuals on Health and Care Worker visas and visas under the NHS concessionary scheme.

This decision aims to target recruitment efforts towards skilled healthcare professionals already settled in the UK or those willing to come without their immediate families. However, the policy has been criticized for creating hardship for existing care workers and potentially deterring talented individuals from pursuing careers in the UK healthcare system.

Replacing the Shortage Occupation List

The Shortage Occupation List (SOL), which defined professions facing labor shortages in the UK for years and justified granting some skilled worker visas, has been replaced. Currently adopted on an interim basis, the Immigration Salary List (ISL) became effective on April 4. This list identifies occupations that have skill shortages within the UK labor market. 

The Immigration Salary List outlines the sectors where employers can sponsor skilled workers under the Skilled Worker visa route, even if the offered salary falls below the new, higher general threshold of £38,700 per year. It essentially provides a path for some roles previously included in the SOL to remain accessible for overseas recruitment.

The list assigns specific occupations, identified by their Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes, to different salary thresholds. There are two key salary figures associated with each occupation:

  • Standard rate: The standard rate is the new minimum salary threshold for all occupations on the ISL. It currently sits at £30,960 annually, offering a discount compared to the general threshold for Skilled Worker visas.
  • Lower rate: The lower rate applies only to Health and Care Worker visas and those who obtained a certificate of sponsorship for a Skilled Worker visa before April 4, 2024, and have maintained continuous Skilled Worker visa status. This lower rate varies depending on the occupation.

Fortunately, the Immigration Salary List allows employers to continue recruiting skilled workers in some sectors where salaries might not typically reach the £38,700 mark. This can be particularly beneficial for roles in niche specializations or regional areas with lower overall wage structures.

However, the list and its new rules also present challenges for employers. The removal of the 20% discount on the "going rate" for shortage occupations previously seen in the SOL means some roles may no longer qualify for the ISL if the median salary doesn't meet the standard rate. Additionally, the ISL's temporary nature creates uncertainty for employers and potential immigrants.

Under review: The Graduate Visa Program

Introduced in 2021, the UK Graduate Visa program (also known as the Post-Study Work visa) is under formal review. The program provides flexibility for international students, allowing them to remain in the United Kingdom for two (or three years for PhD graduates) after completing their studies. This gives graduates time to seek employment, gain work experience, explore career opportunities, and potentially transition into other long-term visa categories.

The 2024 review aims to assess the program's effectiveness in achieving its goals. The UK government hopes to better align the program with the UK's overall immigration strategy. At the time of this writing, the detailed results of the review and any specific changes to the Graduate Visa scheme have yet to be officially announced.

While the review is ongoing, there has been significant public speculation on the ultimate changes. It's possible that tighter restrictions could be placed on the types of institutions or degrees that qualify for the Graduate Visa. This could be done in an attempt to prioritize graduates from highly-ranked universities or those with degrees in fields deemed strategically important for the UK economy. Ultimately, the review could cause modifications to make it easier or more difficult for Graduate Visa holders to transition to other visa categories, such as Skilled Worker.

Why did the UK government decide to change its immigration rules?

The UK government's 2024 immigration reforms represent the latest policy shifts in response to long-running public debates on immigration. When PM Sunak expressed that the 2022 immigration figures (the latest year for which complete data is available) were too high, it signaled that significant changes would be forthcoming.

However, the goal is not just to reduce the yearly number of migrants entering the UK. The UK government seeks to prioritize highly skilled workers and boost the economy. Increased salary thresholds for Skilled Worker visas aim to make the UK more competitive for top talent, contributing to overall economic productivity and innovation.

The government hopes to encourage employers to invest in training and upskilling the domestic workforce. The changes also reflect a response to concerns about population growth and its impact on public services and infrastructure. The revised immigration rules aim to manage overall migration levels. Public anxieties about immigration influence these decisions. The government walks a delicate line between addressing public sentiment and maintaining economic growth.

While proponents highlight potential advantages, critics raise concerns about the reforms' unintended consequences. Increased salary thresholds could hinder businesses from finding suitable candidates, particularly in regional areas. Stricter requirements for sponsoring spouses and partners could create hardship for families and deter skilled workers.

There is the possibility that stricter visa restrictions may make the UK less attractive within the global talent pool. The full impact of these changes remains to be seen. Ongoing scrutiny will assess if the reforms achieve their stated goals while balancing economic growth, social cohesion, and population management needs.

What is the impact on UK employers?

The most immediate impact for UK employers is the increased cost of hiring skilled foreign workers. The substantially raised salary thresholds for Skilled Worker visas mean businesses will need to offer higher salaries to attract overseas talent.

This could financially strain employers, particularly smaller businesses or those operating in regions with lower average wage structures. The restriction of specific occupations on the temporary Immigration Salary List might further narrow the pool of eligible candidates for some employers, potentially making it harder to fill roles requiring specialized skills.

Additionally, the changes could create recruitment challenges, particularly in sectors traditionally reliant on international workers. The healthcare sector, for example, could face staffing difficulties due to the restrictions on family visas for healthcare workers.

Similarly, sectors like technology and engineering, which often rely on highly skilled foreign workers, might find it more challenging to source suitable talent within the new salary limitations. This could lead to longer recruitment processes, delays in filling positions, and hampered growth for some businesses.

However, the changes are also designed to encourage employers to invest in training and upskilling the domestic workforce. This emphasis on domestic development could have long-term benefits for the UK economy. Still, the transition period will require employers to adapt. They'll need to re-evaluate workforce planning strategies, explore alternative recruitment channels, and invest more heavily in training and development initiatives.

The 2024 immigration changes present UK employers with both challenges and opportunities. While the increased costs and complexities will be difficult for some organizations, the reforms also promote a more sustainable workforce model, built on highly qualified talent from the UK and the rest of the world.

Related resources:

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are quick answers to the most frequently asked questions about the 2024 UK immigration changes:

What are the new Skilled Worker Visa salary thresholds?

The 2024 changes significantly increased the minimum salary requirements for Skilled Worker visas. There are now two key salary figures:

  • The general threshold: Increased to £38,700 per year.
  • The "Going Rate": Skilled workers must now meet the median salary level (not a reduced rate) for their specific occupation as listed in the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system.

What are the new rules for sponsoring a spouse/partner on a UK spouse visa?

The financial requirements for sponsoring a spouse or partner became significantly stricter in 2024. The minimum income threshold is now £29,000 per year, with a planned increase to approximately £38,700 by early 2025.

When did the new 2024 UK immigration rules take effect?

The implementation of the changes was staggered across three dates:

  1. March 11: Restrictions on bringing dependent family members for healthcare and care workers.
  2. April 4: Increased Skilled Worker visa salary thresholds and the introduction of the Immigration Salary List.
  3. April 11: The initial increase to the income threshold for Spouse/Partner Visas.

How Localyze can help

The best way for UK employers to manage the challenges of the 2024 immigration changes is to partner with global mobility experts. Localyze has years of experience guiding businesses through constantly changing immigration rules. Contact us today for help with hiring and relocating talent amid the complexities of UK visa immigration rules.

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