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Article United Kingdom: Government Takes Steps to Cut Net Migration

The home secretary of the United Kingdom (U.K.) made a statement before Parliament on December 4, 2023, that the government will introduce measures to cut migration levels and reduce abuses of the immigration system. The measures will meet the commitment made in the 2019 Conservative Party election manifesto and are intended to “deliver[ ] the biggest ever reduction in net migration.” If in place in 2022, the measures would have prevented around 300,000 people from entering the U.K. The measures target dependents entering the U.K., will increase the minimum salaries that overseas workers and British or settled people that sponsor family members must earn, and attempt to tackle other types of exploitation across the immigration system. In addition to reducing the number of migrants that can enter the U.K., the government is also increasing the annual immigration health surcharge from 624 British pounds to 1,035 British pounds (£) (approximately US$785 to $1,300), which will raise an estimated £1.3 billion (approximately US$1.65 billion) each year.

The measures will increase the earning threshold for overseas workers by almost 50%, from £26,200 to £38,700 (approximately US$33,000 to $48,750) in spring 2024. Some jobs are excluded from this requirement, such as health and social care jobs. This measure, which is the first adjustment since 2012, is designed to ensure that businesses consider British workers first and “bring salaries in line with the average full time salary,” with the Office of National Statistics reporting that the median annual income for full-time employees was £34,963 (approximately US$44,000) in 2023.

The minimum income required for British citizens and those settled in the U.K. to bring their family members to the U.K. is also to be increased to £38,700 (approximately US$48,750). The government has stated this “reinforces that all those who want to work and live here must be able to support themselves, are contributing to the economy, and are not burdening the state.”

In the year ending September 2023, 101,000 Health and Care Worker visas were issued, and 120,000 visas were granted to these individuals’ dependents. The new measures provide that individuals entering the U.K. on this visa will no longer be able to bring their dependents with them. Additionally, care providers in England will be able to sponsor migrant workers only if the activities they are undertaking are regulated by the Care Quality Commission.

The home secretary stated that businesses were relying on cheaper labor from overseas by using the 20% going-rate salary discount for occupations listed on the shortage list. To end this, the Migration Advisory Committee is to review the shortage occupations list and create a new immigration salary list that contains fewer occupations.

These measures are in addition to those announced in May 2023 that restrict international students, with the exception of those in post-graduate research courses, from bringing dependents. These steps, which will enter into force for courses starting in January 2024, were taken after there was an increase of 750% from 2019 in the number of students bringing their dependents with them to the U.K. In addition to these measures, the government has also requested that the Migration Advisory Committee undertake a review of the graduate visa program “to ensure it works in the best interests of the UK and to ensure steps are being taken to prevent abuse.”

The measures were introduced following high levels of net migration in the year ending June 2023, with 672,000 more people staying than leaving the U.K. The measures will be implemented by changes in the Immigration Rules, which were made under the Immigration Act 1971.

Clare Feikert-Ahalt, Law Library of Congress
January 25, 2024

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