UK Government announces five-point legal migration plan

1 February 2024 | Applicable law: England and Wales | 3 minutes

On 4th December 2023, the Home Secretary made a statement to the House of Commons on legal migration in what he called a new 'five-point plan'. This statement laid out a series of measures the Government intend to introduce to reduce net migration to the UK. 

On 22nd December 2023, the government took two U-turns in respect to their proposed threshold increases for family visa applicants and skilled workers. These changes will be in addition to the already legislated changes in the rise of the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) and changes for student dependants which will come into force in January 2024.

When will the new changes be implemented?

The Government has announced that these changes will be implemented in Spring 2024. No specific dates have been confirmed, but we can predict that this will be between March 2024 to June 2024. 

What are the changes?

The new 'five-point plan' consists of the following:

1) Increasing the general Skilled Worker salary threshold from £26,200 to £38,700

The Government have confirmed that this change will be implemented on 4 April 2024. This is a huge increase on salaries as it is above the current gross median earnings for full-time employees in the UK. It is also an increase of almost 50% above the current threshold. Whilst this will almost certainly reduce net migration, it will have an economic and social cost to the UK. 

The impact of such a substantial increase to the general salary threshold is that only very senior members of many medium-skilled occupations (at Levels 3 to 5 of the RQF) will continue to qualify. In addition, some occupations will be priced out, including workers in the construction, hospitality, retail, food processing and production industries, as these industries will struggle to accommodate a minimum salary level of £38,700 per annum. 

The Government have confirmed that this will not affect applications in the Health and Care visa route. The Government is however yet to confirm whether this is relevant to 'new entrants' and whether the new minimum salary threshold applies to people extending their Skilled Worker visas. 

The Government have further confirmed that this is not relevant to 'new entrants' and will not apply to people already in the UK either extending their Skilled Worker visas, changing employment or applying for settlement. 

2) Cutting the Shortage Occupation List discount

The Government has confirmed that this change will happen no earlier than April 2024. As recently recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the Shortage Occupation List 20% salary discount will be ended. 

At present, employers can pay a discounted going rate (80% of the full rate) or the SOL general threshold of £20,960, whichever is higher, when recruiting for an occupation on the SOL. The MAC consistently made the case to the Government to remove the going rate discount. The going rate is designed to prevent undercutting of resident workers and to prevent exploitation of migrants. The MAC believed that there was no good reason why such protections should be waived when an occupation is experiencing shortage.  

The MAC has also been asked to further advise the Home Office on creating a new Immigration Salary List with fewer occupations than at present. This list will have a discounted general salary threshold.

3) The MAC is to review the Graduate route

The Graduate visa currently gives an individual permission to stay in the UK for at least 2 years after successfully completing a course in the UK. The Home Office will commission the MAC to consider policy options for reforming the Graduate visa route so that it better supports a pathway into high quality jobs for graduates and to ' prevent abuse'.  The Government has confirmed that the review will begin in January 2024 (and may run until "late 2024"). 

4) Reforms to the Health and Care visa, including care worker dependants

Two main announcements have been made for this route:

  • Care homes must be regulated by the Care Quality Commission in an attempt to stop bogus care home businesses from sponsoring care workers following evidence of abuse of the scheme. From 11 March 2024, the Government will ensure that care providers in England will only be able to sponsor migrant workers if they are undertaking activities regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC); and
  • Care workers under the Health and Care visa will be ineligible to be accompanied by dependants. The date the Government have set for banning newly arriving care workers from bringing immediate family members is 11 March 2024.

The Home Office will be monitoring this occupation closely following the high levels of use and evidence of worker exploitation since it was included on the shortage occupation list early last year.

5) Increased minimum income requirement for family applications

On 4th December 2023, the Government announced that the main minimum income requirement for sponsoring partners under Appendix FM will rise from £18,600 to £38,700. Following criticism from legal practitioners and other stakeholders, the Government changed their plan and instead announced on 22nd December 2023 that the increase will be gradual. The Government have since announced that the main minimum income requirement for sponsoring partners under Appendix FM will increase to £29,000 on 11 April 2024, then to £34,500 at an unspecified time (likely later in 2024); and finally to around £38,700 "in early 2025". The additional income requirement to sponsor children has not yet been confirmed.

Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)

The Home Office will be increasing the Immigration Health Surcharge fee on 6 February 2024 which will rise to £1,035 per person per year and the discounted rate will rise to £776, reflecting a 66% increase.

Next steps

If you are an employer or an individual with queries related to these expected changes then please contact our dedicated Immigration team or your usual Withers contact, call +44 20 7597 6364 or email

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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