Rocked and embarrassed by the release of net migration statistics showing that levels have trebled since winning its majority on the back of Brexit that was supposed to reduce them, the Government knew it had to say something to seize back the agenda [see article 1 December by Stacey Lambert]. Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said last week that he was working on a plan. Yesterday, his boss James Cleverly, Home Secretary, told the House of Commons what the new “five-point plan” entailed. Well, in outline, anyway.
The headlines are:
- A big increase in the default minimum base salary threshold for Points Based System Skilled Workers from £26,200 to £38,700
- Ending of the ability of Skilled Worker migrants to bring dependents where the main migrant’s base salary is below that threshold because it is in a special category, e.g. health and social care workers
- A review of the future of the “shortage occupation list” which currently enables a 20% reduction in the minimum salary threshold for those roles
- Pegging the annul earnings threshold for British citizens and those with settled status to bring in dependents to the new £38,700 level
- Increasing the immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) from £624 to £1,035 per migrant per year of permission granted which has already been announced [see article by Daniaal Afzaal]
The intended impact yesterday was to restore credibility in the Government’s ability and determination to deliver on a manifesto commitment to bring down net migration, in this case by an estimated 300,000. Today, it is bolstered by the latest re-working of the treaty with Rwanda to send asylum seekers there – the third attempt by the third Home Secretary following previous defeats at the Supreme Court.
When will it be implemented?
“In the Spring”, according to James Cleverly. In fact, the Government has already committed to implementing the IHS on 16 January 2024 which is still this winter. Spring stretches from the start of March into June. Businesses want an exact date; at the moment Easter, which is at the end of March 2024, seems likely. Especially as speculation about an April election builds, if all this is going down well with the electorate.
What are the expected impacts for employers and migrants?
Encouraged by the post-Brexit reductions in skill level and salary thresholds and the broadening of qualifying occupational codes, many businesses have planned 2024 recruitment based on salary assumptions that may now need to be re-written now that the Government has changed direction all over again. This is especially acute where, for example, a cohort of graduates has already received Autumn 2024 offers below the threshold, or where existing employees on Graduate visas – the future of which is also under review - may no longer be eligible to switch into the Skilled Worker routes. In the health and care sector, the exception for lower salary will continue for sponsored care workers, but they will no longer be able to bring dependents unless earning £38,700 or more. Few will be, so their willingness to come at all may be affected, leaving a staffing crisis in its wake. Sponsors cannot artificially inflate earnings to meet a salary threshold even when they have the resources and commercial incentive to do so, as that is a breach of the rules as well as potentially discriminatory to co-workers. So, on the face of it, there is a problem for business and migrants.
What can the Government do head off a backlash from business but retain its tougher stance?
There are several options. We should expect ministers to say that, of course, they had thought of that all along when balancing the needs of society and the economy with the wealth generation from business that supports them.
- Early announcement of a clear date for implementation in “Spring 2024”
- Transitional provisions for those already sponsored to extend their visas without the full increase in salary and the ban on dependents below it
- New entrant provisions with lower salary bands for graduate recruits outside shorter structured training programmes
- For the health and social care sector, tailored immigration provisions integral to a comprehensive package of measures to address the point of need and avoid a staffing crisis
The Government must surely be planning to unveil this in the days and weeks ahead rather than be seen to be reacting to criticism of an ill-thought-out plan that might, in the words of the SNP leader at Westminster, “wreck the economy”. Its credibility on a key issue is already on the line and this may be its last chance.