The government is changing some rules on who is allowed to come to the UK to live and work.
Ministers have come under pressure to act on legal migration, after official figures showed that net migration in 2022 hit a record 745,000.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has described current migration levels as “far too high”.
What are the new immigration rules?
Most people wanting to work in the UK will still have to apply for a visa through a points-based system (PBS).
But from spring 2024, they will have to have a job offer with a higher salary in order to get a work visa.
They will need to earn at least £38,700 – this is up by nearly 50% from the current minimum salary of £26,200.
This will not apply to some jobs – such as in health and social care.
But in this sector, overseas care workers will not be able to bring in family dependants.
A points system was first adopted by the Labour government in 2008, when it applied to migrants from non-EU countries. It was then overhauled by the Conservatives after the Brexit vote.
The current PBS – which covers EU and non-EU migrants – was launched at the end of 2020.
How does the points-based system work?
Applicants need enough points to qualify for a skilled worker visa.
All applicants need to get the initial 50 points from having a job offer above a minimum skill level and speaking English.
The remaining 20 points may come from a combination of salary, working in a shortage occupation or having a relevant PhD.
The standard fee for a skilled visa is usually between £719 and £1,500 and applicants also have to pay a £624 healthcare surcharge for each year of their stay.
The health surcharge will now increase to £1,035 a year.
What is the ‘shortage occupation list’?
A “shortage occupation list” exists to help employers fill certain roles.
These jobs have a lower salary threshold, making it easier for applicants to gain the required number of points to get a visa.
Jobs currently on the list include:
Employers were able to pay foreign workers 80% of the job’s usual “going rate” to fill those positions. This will be abolished from next spring.
Labour had criticised the measure as a “salary discount” which they say allowed employers to undercut local wages.
From spring 2024, overseas care workers will no longer be allowed to bring family dependants with them.
The government says it will also review the occupation shortage list and reduce the number of occupations on it.
What about family visas?
The government is raising the minimum income for those bringing family members to the UK on a family visa to £38,700 from spring 2024.
The minimum income currently required is £18,600.
How many migrants come to the UK?
In the year ending June 2023, 1,180,000 people came to the UK expecting to stay for at least a year, and an estimated 508,000 departed.
That means net migration – which is the difference between the number of people arriving and leaving – stood at 672,000.
In 2022, net migration reached a record 745,000.
The vast majority of people arriving in the UK were from countries outside the European Union (EU).
The latest figures show that 968,000 came from non-EU countries.
Study (39%) was the main reason for non-EU migrants to come, followed by work (33%) and humanitarian reasons (9%), according to the ONS release.
The top five non-EU nationalities were:
- Indian (253,000)
- Nigerian (141,000)
- Chinese (89,000)
- Pakistani (55,000)
- Ukrainian (35,000)
Official immigration data gathering was disrupted during the Covid-19 pandemic and there have been considerable changes to the way the figures are collected.
How many students come to the UK?
In the 12 months to the end of September 2023, the government issued 486,107 study visas.
Half of those were granted to Indian and Chinese nationals.
Students from Nigeria were the next most common nationality of student visa holders, followed by Pakistan and the United States.
Students on postgraduate courses could also apply for visas for qualifying dependents: a husband, wife, civil or unmarried partner and any children under 18 years old.
In the year ending September 2023, 152,980 visas were issued to dependants.
But from January 2024, the government will remove the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses designated as research programmes.
Students who have already completed their degree can stay in the UK for two years (three years for those with a doctoral degree) to work under a graduate visa. In the year to the end of September 2023, 104,501 such visas were issued, excluding dependants.
What about seasonal workers?
Temporary workers such as fruit pickers and poultry workers are covered by seasonal worker visas.
For 2023 and 2024 there are between 45,000 and 55,000 seasonal worker visas available, plus another 2,000 for poultry workers.
There is an application fee of £298. Workers must be paid at the the minimum wage.
How has Brexit changed immigration?
Before Brexit, European Union and UK citizens had the freedom to live, work or study in any EU country without needing a work visa.
However, this freedom of movement came to an end on 1 January 2021.
In the 12 months to June 2023, net EU migration was -86,000. This means more EU nationals left the UK than arrived.
Net migration of non-EU nationals – the difference between those arriving and those leaving – was 768,000.
Net migration of British nationals was -10,000. More British people left the UK than came back.