Skip to main content

New Immigration measures revealed: what's changing and how will it impact the UK

The new Home Secretary, James Cleverly, earlier this week announced a package of extensive measures set to reduce net migration in the UK and prevent what he calls “circumvention of the immigration system”. 

These measures are set to come into effect from Spring 2024. Cleverly takes a harsh line, contending that “enough is enough” and “immigration policy must be fair, legal, and sustainable”. He claims that approximately 300,000 people who had legally entered into the UK last year would have been curtailed by these measures. 

But how harsh are these measures? And will they be “fair, legal, and sustainable” as Cleverly maintains? On the face of it, these measures are overly restrictive and could cause harm to industries in the UK which are already struggling. Not only this but British citizens and their families will be disproportionately affected also.

What's changing?

1. Increase in skilled worker salary

When applying for a Skilled Worker visa, there are several requirements that must be met before the application is approved. One of those is the minimum salary threshold, which currently sits at £26,200 per annum and £10.75 per hour. In addition to this, applicants must also meet the ‘going rate’ for the specific occupation code they will be working under.

Cleverly’s announcement will increase this minimum salary threshold from £26,200 to £38,700, which is a near 50% increase. He maintains that this encourages businesses to “look to British talent first and invest in their workforce, helping us to deter employers from over-relying on migration whilst bringing salaries in line with the average full-time salary for these types of jobs.”

Just for context, currently there are 226 listed SOC codes under the Immigration Rules as eligible for the Skilled Worker route. The going rate threshold for each code is accurately calculated against the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) date and therefore reflects current salary trends. Of the 226 SOC codes, only 6.6% of the SOC codes listed (i.e. 15 codes) are currently above the new £38,700 threshold. This means that a staggering 93.4% of jobs currently eligible for the Skilled Worker route will no longer be eligible as their going rates do not reach the new minimum threshold. This is a shocking statistic and will disproportionately affect those individuals and businesses in lower income areas throughout the country.

It's clear from Cleverly’s statement that these measures are being used to deter employers rather than to invite the best of overseas talent to plug gaps in our workforce. Several industries, including the NHS, construction and hospitality, currently have high levels of work shortages in the UK following the end of free movement. Cleverly’s announced measures will now make it even more expensive for employers to plug workforce gaps using the UK’s immigration system by employing migrant workers. It is hard to see how these measures will help these industries going forward.

Please note that the salary increase for Skilled Worker visas will not extend to Health and Care visa routes as applicants under this route will be exempt from the increase. Additionally, care providers in England will now only be able to sponsor workers if they are “undertaking activities regulated by the Care Quality Commission”.

2. Increase in spouse visa salary 

In addition to the Skilled Worker route, the financial requirement for ‘partners of a British citizen’ is also drastically increasing. 

When sponsoring a partner under the Immigration Rules, a British or settled person must meet the financial threshold by demonstrating earnings of £18,600 per annum. This can be from several specified sources and there is extensive guidance to help applicants work this out. 

Cleverly will now be increasing the financial threshold to £38,700. This is a massive jump of approximately 108% which will no doubt cause significant problems for British citizens or settled persons wanting to bring their partner to the UK. At this stage, no mention has been made of increases to other visas under the Immigration Rules (e.g. children of partners etc.).

Currently, to rely solely on savings, applicants or their sponsors must be able to evidence holding the continuous sum of £62,500 for a period of 6 months in their bank account prior to the application submission. However, as the threshold has increased by over 100%, this figure is likely to be £112,750 which must be held for a continuous period of six months prior to submission of the application. This is an extremely unreasonable amount to expect applicants or their sponsors to have, to evidence for the financial requirement of a Spouse Visa. 

If implemented in Spring 2024, this will disproportionately affect families of British citizens with overseas partners. Many individuals will need to rely on exceptions to the rules if they wish to apply as a partner of a British citizen or settled person. This will likely lead to an increase in human rights-based applications and appeals.

3. Health and care worker visas: dependents will be barred

In a further blow to the industry, Cleverly will now also be introducing measures to prevent overseas care workers from bringing their dependents to the UK with them (e.g. spouse, children etc.). This will be similar to previous announcements by the government curtailing dependents of international students from applying for visas to join the main applicant in the UK for the entirety of their studies.

This is also a measure to deter those individuals from entering the UK, as it would require applicants to leave their partner and potentially children behind when coming to the UK. 

4. Shortage occupation list under fire

Cleverly has promised to end the 20% going rate salary discount for shortage occupations and replace the list with a new Immigration Salary List which will retain a general threshold discount. While the government has confirmed the continued jurisdiction of the Migration Advisory Committee in reviewing this list against increased salary thresholds, it is unclear how the list will function in its entirety. 

5. Graduate route: a repeat of the past?

Quite ominously, Cleverely has indicated that the “Migration Advisory Committee will be asked to review the Graduate visa route to ensure it works in the best interests of the UK and to ensure steps are being taken to prevent abuse”. This could be a further blow to international students in the UK especially after the announcement to prevent dependents from joining the main applicant in the UK. 

However, history appears to be repeating itself. In 2012, the former Home Secretary Theresa May removed the former Post Study Work Visa (predecessor to the Graduate Visa route) from the UK immigration system. This was eventually reinstated by Boris Johnson in 2019 following longstanding objections from UK universities; its abolition disadvantaged UK universities in the competition to attract overseas talent as compared to rival destination countries with more liberal immigration policies. Therefore, the pendulum could swing back the other way. 

Ultimately, this policy has already been trialled in the past with limited success. It prevents the best in overseas talent being attracted to study and eventually work in the UK, contributing to UK society.


Following the end of free movement in the UK, it is difficult to see the benefits of these measure on strained UK industries such as hospitality. The immigration system could be utilised to plug these gaps which are clearly not being taken up by British citizens. Additionally, the salary restrictions to those applying under a Spouse Visa will disproportionately affect those on lower income salaries. Sponsors on full time salaries in areas of lower income in the UK will likely not reach the threshold which will cause these particular areas to become especially effected. 

With a general election on the horizon, and a potential for a change in government, it is unclear whether these measures will stay in place for a long period time, or whether we will see a U-turn imposed.

We can help

The government hasn't yet published any details about how these new immigration rules will work in practice. What happens to immigrants working here who don't currently meet the new earnings threshold? What about their dependents? Will they have to go home if they don't meet the spouse visa salary? 

Our dedicated team of immigration specialists are considering the answers to these and other questions. If you'd like help, please speak to the head of our Immigration Department Mandeep Khroud