The UK has announced its intention to raise the minimum salary threshold for skilled worker visas, along with restrictions on family dependents for overseas health and social care staff coming to Britain. The office of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak heralds these proposals as “the biggest clampdown on legal migration ever.” However, critics argue that such measures could have detrimental effects on the already understaffed National Health Service (NHS).
With nationwide elections looming by January 2025, immigration has become a central issue, with the main opposition Labour Party currently favoured to win. Sunak, under scrutiny since recent statistics revealed a peak in net migration to Britain in 2022, is pledging to curb new arrivals.
Outlining the plan, Interior Minister James Cleverly anticipates a reduction of 300,000 people arriving in the UK in the coming years. The proposal raises the minimum income requirement for skilled foreign workers seeking a UK visa to £38,700 ($48,860), a substantial increase from £26,200 and aligning with the median full-time wage. Notably, health and social care workers are exempt but are barred from bringing family dependents.
NHS providers, representing hospital groups in England, express deep concern about potential deterrents for care workers. Care England, a charity representing independent adult social care providers, emphasises the crucial role of immigration in sustaining the social care sector, which has faced exacerbated staff shortages post-Brexit.
Cleverly also raised the minimum income for family visas to £38,700 and confirmed restrictions on international students bringing dependents. The government plans to raise the NHS surcharge for migrants by 66 percent, amounting to £1,035. Critics argue that this constitutes a double charge on migrant workers, who also contribute to national insurance charges covering healthcare.
Additionally, Cleverly announced a reform of the “shortage occupation list,” detailing jobs for which British workers are insufficient. Elected in 2019 on promises of reducing net migration, the Conservative government faces pressure from its MPs to address the issue, seen by some as a “do or die” matter for the party.
As the Tories lag behind Labour in opinion polls and face accusations of being in a “chaotic panic” over immigration, Labour’s home affairs spokesperson, Yvette Cooper, criticises the government. “Today’s statement is an admission of years of total failure by this Conservative government,” she told parliament.
Besides dealing with immigration challenges, Sunak faces the task of curbing irregular arrivals crossing the Channel from northern France. The courts recently halted efforts to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, prompting Cleverly to visit Kigali for treaty negotiations. The government is also working on “emergency legislation” to resume deportation flights by spring.