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What's new in UK immigration?

Updated: Feb 1

La poussière semble être retombée depuis le Brexit. Cependant, il peut être difficile de comprendre et de suivre l'évolution constante des exigences en matière de visas au Royaume-Uni.

Nilmini Roelens 31 janv. 2024 | Public

Translation of the above article from "Les français a Londres" is below:

What's new in UK immigration?

The dust seems to have settled since Brexit. However, it can be difficult to understand and keep up with the ever-changing visa requirements in the UK.

Immigration is still front and centre, and EU nationals are no more privileged than other migrants. The British government continues to try to make sense of Brexit, as if it were a good thing, in spite of everything.

Immigration Health Surcharge: migrants' access to the NHS

In October 2023, visa fees went up. Now, a planned increase in the Immigration Health Surcharge (I H S) - which is a kind of compulsory health insurance that migrants coming for more than 6 months have to pay - will come into force from February 6, 2024.

Currently, this surcharge amounts to £624 per year for each year of stay. From February 6, 2024, it will rise to £1,035 per year per applicant. If you're ready to apply for a visa from abroad or from within the country, it's well worth submitting the application, even at this late stage, as it could make a big difference to the outlay.

The Net Migration myth

Underpinning recent immigration policy initiatives is the Conservative party's self-imposed net migration agenda, now more than a decade old. By this, we mean the residual migrant population compared with the annual comings and goings of migrants arriving for a period of more than 12 months.

On December 4, 2023, the new Home Secretary, James Cleverly, announced a package of measures designed to bring the elusive net immigration figures under control. It seems that these measures were not fully thought through, as they caused much alarm among migrant communities. The media took a keen interest and many questions were raised.

On December 21, 2023, Tom Pursglove, Minister for Legal Migration and Borders, provided some clarification in response to a parliamentary question.

On January 30, 2024, in a written statement, Pursglove clarified the details of the government's plans.

These changes will be implemented through a succession of amendments to immigration rules. The reason is the long-standing battle against net migration figures, but the explanation itself belies the inappropriateness of reducing net migration as a fundamental policy position:

“Since the pandemic, the UK has experienced unprecedented levels of immigration. This is in large part due to growth in humanitarian routes like Ukraine, Hong Kong and Afghanistan, as well as growth in health and social care visas, and students. The latest official estimates show that net migration in the year to June 2023 was 672,000 - up significantly on pre-pandemic volumes, but lower than the estimated 745,000 who came in the year to December 2022. The Government is clear that this level of net migration is too high and must come down swiftly to avoid unsustainable pressure on public services and housing.”

Net migration figures as a benchmark have also become meaningless because nationals from 27 new countries have had to qualify for entry under national immigration rules since Brexit. Given that EU nationals previously enjoyed freedom of movement, the aforementioned factors, as Pursglove acknowledges, render the relentless obsession with net migration figures meaningless and harmful.

What changes are likely to have an impact on the French community?

Although the I H S increases are cross-cutting, skilled workers, partner visas and student dependents are the categories most affected by the recent announcements.

Skilled workers: Minimum Salary Threshold

It seems that the small boats from Calais have prompted the Prime Minister to reduce the number of legal migrants too, in order to send political messages to the British public in this election year.

In the December 4, 2023 announcement, Mr. Cleverly said that skilled workers would be subject to a "minimum salary threshold" of £38,700 a year from spring 2024. This measure sent shockwaves through sponsors of migrant workers and other legal migrants who had been very welcome until now.

Salary thresholds for people arriving via the skilled worker route will therefore be raised, with the minimum threshold increasing by 48%, from £26,200 to £38,700. These changes will come into force on April 4, 2024.

It is therefore advisable to submit skilled worker and sponsorship licence applications well before April.

Shortage occupations

Workers on health and care visas will be exempt from the minimum salary threshold to meet the needs of the care sector and the NHS. Workers in occupations covered by the national pay scale, such as teaching, are also exempt.

This means that employers in the health and social care sector can continue to hire foreign staff at an hourly rate of £10.75, and the education sector can recruit from abroad at the minimum rate depending on their qualifications. The threshold for migrant workers in the health and care sector will increase in April, however, when the UK national minimum wage rises.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the government's independent advisors on immigration policy, has been tasked with conducting a review of the Shortage Occupation List to determine which occupations should be temporarily added to a new "Immigration Salary List" from the start of April 2024.

Employers currently benefit from a 20% reduction on the current rate for wages payable to employees in shortage occupations. The new immigration rules will remove this reduction, but will temporarily add certain occupations to the new list of immigration wages.

Family visas: Minimum Income Requirement

This threshold should not be confused with the minimum salary threshold for skilled workers. However, the "minimum income requirement" for family visas, which currently stands at £18,600 per annum, will gradually be brought into line with the skilled worker "salary threshold" of £38,700. From April 11, 2024, the income requirement will rise to £29,000, then to £34,500 and finally to £38,700 (double) at the beginning of 2025.

Families will remain split, unless they earn well.

Students and their dependents

Referring to the end of most international students' ability to be accompanied by dependants from January 1, 2024, Cleverly said " important part of this plan (reducing net migration) has come into effect, ending the unreasonable practice of international students bringing family members to the UK...".

The MAC has also been asked to review the "Graduate route", which allows foreign students to work in the UK for two years after graduation.

Professor Brian Bell, chairman of the MAC, told the Financial Times on January 26, 2024 that he was concerned that the government's rhetoric on immigration was sometimes "simplistic" and that ministers were not properly considering the wider impacts of policy changes.

The Financial Times reported Mr. Bell as follows: "Challenging ministers to be honest about the effects of any changes to the immigration system on the university sector, he said: "Should we damage one of our few internationally competitive industries? Maybe we should, but let's be clear, that's what we're doing".

Let's call a spade a spade

We could take Professor Bell's words and say that it's time for the British government to be less hypocritical about immigration policy as a whole. It's time it understood the damage it's inflicting on the British economy by obsessively pursuing a mythical net migration agenda for political ends.

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