It hasn’t been long since the visa fees increased in many categories, and the IHS is also set to rise in January, but on the 4th of December 2023, the government announced a further raft of changes to the Immigration Laws. This is due to them not meeting their targets for bringing migration down and net migration reaching a record high of 745,000 last year.
In the run-up to a general election, immigration has once again become a hot political topic and, unfortunately for many migrants and their families, the government has decided to make further changes to attempt to bring the numbers down. Here we address the major changes, starting with one of the most contentious, the increase in Spouse and Partner income thresholds. The proposed change is for the:
Income Threshold for Spouse and Partner Visas to More than Double
The income requirement for Spouse and Partner visas has been £18,600 since its inception in 2012 and applies to British nationals or settled migrants who wish to invite their spouse or partner to join them in the UK. Please see our earlier article for the other requirements. The income requirement was brought in to ensure that those sponsoring their spouse or partner would be able to maintain them adequately without claiming any benefits, although public funds are not generally accessible to those here on this visa.
This seems fair in theory, but the proposed increase in the spouse and partner income requirement to £38,700 puts the required earnings above the median gross annual earnings of £34,963 (for full-time UK workers). The shock increase has caused anger and dismay amongst affected British citizens both already here and abroad, with many feeling that their plans are now in jeopardy. It has been reported by various news outlets that this will bar more than 70% of workers from being able to meet the requirement.
As some media has also pointed out, migrant workers employed in the NHS or other public service roles would end up with more rights than British employees doing the same job, as migrant workers would be able to bring their spouse or partner but British workers on the same pay would not.
Rishi Sunak’s spokesman appears very out of touch by stating that savings can be relied on instead, but the savings requirement is already out of reach for most at £62,500, and using the current formula will rise to £112,750, so will provide little comfort to those affected. He also stated that there is a provision for exceptional circumstances if applications are refused, but this will increase costs if it involves an appeal and because it is granted under the 10-year route, meaning that it will take 10 years rather than 5 to reach Indefinite Leave to Remain.
From outside the UK, the threshold of exceptional circumstances has also proved difficult to reach. Hopefully, the backlash will force the government into a U-turn, as otherwise many British citizens who have a non-British spouse or partner will not have the option to live with them in the UK.
It still unclear where, how and when these new proposals will come in for spouse visas, with the government reportedly “Undecided whether new income rules will apply to family visa renewals.” It is a serious move that would amount to the shifting of goal posts for many migrant families if the law is imposed retrospectively.
Given that family migration only accounts for about 6% of total migration, the serious interference is would have on families hardly seems worth it for the government. The new measures would have a disproportionate affect on British women, of whom 75% would not meet the new income threshold, making living with a non-British spouse or partner in the UK something that is reserved for the rich.
Minimum Salary Requirements for Skilled Workers to Increase
The next proposed change relates to Skilled Worker visas. If migrants are applying under the Skilled Worker category, their income needs to meet a minimum requirement, which is currently the highest of £26,200 per year, £10.75 per hour, or the ‘going rate’ for the type of job being sponsored. The government has announced that this will rise to £38,700 per year, except for jobs those on the shortage occupation list such as Health and Care workers, and those on pay scales, such as teachers.
Health and Care Workers account for a large proportion of skilled workers and are thus exempted from this increase, as are other jobs under the shortage occupation list. This proposal therefore seems unlikely to have any real affect on the numbers coming to UK.
Scrapping of Dependants Visas for Care Workers
In another contentious move, migrants who wish to come to the UK to work in the Care sector will no longer be able to bring their partner or children with them. Care companies are worried that this may once again put the sector at risk, as migrants may be put off from coming to the UK to take up positions and there are still around 150,000 vacancies to fill.
The government eased the visa restrictions following COVID-19 and Brexit amid an acute shortage of care workers, as many hospital beds were occupied by people who could have left if they had adequate care available in the community. The influx of Care Workers has helped to fill the gaps over the last year and they are now being asked to continue coming to care for our elderly and disabled by abandoning their own families in exchange for rock-bottom wages, which are often below the living wage…sending the message that we want their skills but they should not expect to have a life or families of their own.
Although the UK is currently a popular place for foreign healthcare workers to come and work, the government might want to remember that we are competing with other Western countries that also need healthcare workers and offer much more appealing propositions; if we are not prepared to treat them with dignity we may be digging ourselves into a hole with our ageing population.
Scrapping of salary discounts for shortage occupations
If the job a migrant is applying for is on the shortage occupation list, that currently allows their pay to be 80% of the usual going rate for a skilled worker visa. This is intended to help UK employers fill vacancies where there is a shortage of UK workers. The government also intends to reduce the number of occupations on the list.
Home Secretary James Cleverly has stated that this will ‘crackdown on cut-price labor from overseas’ but given that this applies where there aren’t enough workers to fill current vacancies, it is hard to see how this will be beneficial.
Given that this shortage occupation list is a live list and amended on the recommendation of industry experts -The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is commissioned to recommend which occupations should be added to each the list – the government can only cure this problem by taking measures to reduce the shortages e.g. by increasing funding for scholarships and apprenticeships. This will only bear fruit after several years and affected industries still need to function until then.
An increase in foreign worker visas should also mean an increase in revenue collected by the government, especially the Immigration Skills Charge introduced in April 2017 by the 2016 Immigration Act, which must be paid for each migrant worker coming and should have been used by the government to train local workers . As the government promised in the Explanatory Memorandum, the Immigration Skills Charge was meant to:
“ to incentivise employers to invest in training and upskilling the resident workforce, thus reducing reliance on migrant workers … The income raised by the charge will be put towards addressing skills gaps in the UK workforce.”
Perhaps the government should explain to the public where this money, collected since the introduction of this fee in April 2017, reported over 1.6 billion, has gone.
Review of Graduate Visas
The government also announced that it would review the Graduate Visa route, which is currently available to graduates for two years following the completion of their course. This was scrapped in the past, but UK universities found that it removed their competitive edge compared to Australia and America.
Given that UK universities rely on international students to subsidise the fees that British students pay, any changes to this visa that makes Britain a less desirable option for students risks being unpopular with universities.
Notably, the Graduate Visa was introduced by the current government with the minister at the time stating that it represented:
“A new ambition to increase the number of international students studying in the UK by more than 30% – helping boost the income generated by education exports to £35 billion”Department for Education, Department for International Trade, The Rt Hon Liam Fox MP, and The Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP Published 16 March 2019 on GOV.UK
One is left wondering if the Government now intends to increase the funding to universities (which have been in major decline over the last 10 years) to meet the deficit that will inevitably be left by a reduction of international students, or if universities will need to increase the fees for local students.
All these changes… but will they work?
Although the current government’s obsession with all matters immigration makes such headline-grabbing announcements predictable, it is worth analysing the costs and benefits of these changes. They seem to come as the result of the huge increase in net immigration, which has been caused by several factors including COVID-19, the Ukraine war, and Brexit.
Unfortunately, despite being headline grabbers, these new measures seem unlikely to reduce the numbers of immigrants on work visas, given the recent increase in jobs listed on the shortage occupation list. Instead they will increase economic hardship for thousands of British Citizens with a non British spouse and Migrant families. They are also likely to leave universities with a massive fund deficit, which will in turn need government funds or an increase in local students’ fees.
You may contact us by filling in our Quick Enquiry form any time you need professional support or have any questions. Alternatively, you can call us during office hours on 07544669131 / 0116 3800 744Cross Border Legal Solicitors Ltd is a UK Solicitor law firm regulated by under the Solicitor Regulations Authority. It is Headed by Mr Tito Mbariti, a UK Immigration and Human Rights Solicitor practising lawyer and member of the Law Society of England and Wales.