Menu Close

The UK’s New Immigration Reforms for Skilled Workers

The United Kingdom’s approach to managing net migration is undergoing significant transformations. The Home Office’s latest initiative, a comprehensive five-point strategy, marks a pivotal moment in the UK’s immigration policy. With changes poised to take effect from 4 April 2024.

A Closer Look at the Five-Point Plan

At the heart of the UK’s strategy to streamline net migration is a series of adjustments designed to refine the entry process for skilled workers. A key feature of this plan is the revision of minimum salary requirements. From April 2024, employers sponsoring Skilled Worker visas must offer salaries that meet or exceed £38,700—a substantial rise from the previous threshold of £26,200—or the standard ‘going rate’ for the job, whichever is higher. These ‘going rates’ are meticulously defined for each occupation, considering a standard workweek of 37.5 hours, thereby necessitating proportional adjustments for different working hours.

The revamp extends to the Skilled Worker visa route, the principal avenue for employers to sponsor overseas individuals. This pathway will see the most significant changes, impacting a broad spectrum of professions, notably in engineering.

Engineering and the Shortage Occupation List

Previously, engineering roles enjoyed a position on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL), granting them certain privileges such as reduced application fees and a 20% discount on the salary threshold. However, with the transition to the Immigration Salary List (ISL), engineering and similar fields have been removed, effectively eliminating these advantages. This double impact—the removal of the 20% discount and the overall increase in salary thresholds—places a heavier burden on sectors that previously relied on the SOL for recruitment ease.

Supporting New Entrants and Current Visa Holders

Despite these stringent requirements, the UK’s immigration reform introduces measures to ease the transition for new market entrants and those with existing Skilled Worker visas. New entrants, defined as individuals under 26 or transitioning from Student or Graduate visas, benefit from lower salary thresholds, set at £30,960 or 70% of the going rate. However, this comes with a caveat; the initial Skilled Worker visa is capped at four years, necessitating an extension to meet the full salary requirements for prolonged UK residency.

For those already in the UK under the Skilled Worker route, renewing their visas before 2030 will not necessitate meeting the new, higher thresholds. Their renewal applications will be subject to slightly increased salary requirements, reflecting inflation adjustments but remaining below the new thresholds for fresh applicants.

Alternative Routes and Strategic Considerations

The UK offers a plethora of visa options beyond employer sponsorship, catering to a diverse array of circumstances. From the visitor route, allowing short-term business activities, to visas for those with British family or UK ancestry, and even specific schemes for young professionals and interns, the landscape is rich with possibilities. Employers and individuals alike are encouraged to explore these alternatives, especially for meeting short-term business needs without the complexities of sponsorship.

The Road Ahead

A critical aspect of these reforms is the ongoing review process. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is set to conduct an exhaustive review of the new ISL in 2024, incorporating public feedback. This presents a strategic opportunity for stakeholders to influence future immigration policies by submitting evidence-based responses to the MAC, potentially shaping the Home Secretary’s decisions on immigration rule updates.