Comment: UK immigration update - increased minimum salary requirements

The Home Office’s five-point plan to reduce net migration, which includes raising minimum salary thresholds and overhauling the Shortage Occupation List, is taking shape, with most changes coming into effect from 4 April 2024, says Kirsty Moore, Fragomen.


The Skilled Worker visa route - the primary option available to employers to sponsor individuals to work in the UK - will be most impacted.

To sponsor a Skilled Worker in the UK, the minimum salary will now need to be the higher of £38,700 (increased from the current £26,200) or the ‘going rate’ for the particular role. Going rates are set out against each occupation code and assume a 37.5 working week, so should be prorated according to the employee’s contractual hours.

For most jobs, the going rate will see a significant hike, which will be keenly felt in engineering. For example, an electrical engineer applying under the rules in place before 04 April would have been subject to a minimum salary requirement of £31,440. Beginning on 04 April, this increases to £53,500.

Engineers no longer considered under the Shortage Occupation List

Under the previous system, employers in engineering and manufacturing could take advantage of the fact that all degree-level engineering roles were considered shortage occupations. The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) afforded sponsors reduced application fees, and a 20 per cent reduction to the going rate in meeting the salary threshold.

The SOL will now be replaced with the Immigration Salary List (ISL), which has been stripped entirely of engineering and similar occupations. As such, there will no longer be preferential treatment given to aid the recruitment of overseas workers and the sector has effectively been impacted twice: first with the removal of the 20 per cent reduction, and second by the general increases.

Relief for new entrants and those with existing Skilled Worker visas

Many businesses, while paying at or above the new thresholds for experienced engineers, may have concerns about more junior hires.

Fortunately, there will be lower salary thresholds for those considered ‘new entrants’ to the labour market, which will typically include any applicant under 26 years old or switching from Student or Graduate visas (among others). If the new entrant criteria are met, they would need to be paid the higher of £30,960 or 70 per cent of the going rate. There is a catch: a Skilled Worker visa can lead to permanent residence after five years, but the initial visa is capped to four years (including any time already spent on the Graduate route) if relying on the new entrant provision. The visa will, therefore, need to be extended later for the employee to stay in the UK and at that time the full salary threshold must be met.

Where employees are already sponsored under the Skilled Worker route, they will also not need to meet the highest of the new thresholds if their visas are extended before 2030. Instead, their applications will be subject to different salary requirements, which will be higher than the previous requirements, having increased with inflation, but lower than the salary thresholds for new Skilled Worker applicants.

Alternatives to sponsorship

For short term business needs, particularly for international operations, it may be possible for employees to use the visitor route. A visitor can conduct general business activities in the UK, like attending meetings, carrying out site visits and in certain circumstances giving or receiving training. Employers should carefully review the full list of permitted activities provided by the Home Office to assess that conditions won’t be breached. In addition to restrictions on activities, the employee can’t usually be paid by a UK business and visits are expected to be short in duration – usually no more than a few weeks at a time, depending on the circumstances.

There is a diverse range of visa options in the UK outside of employer sponsorship. There are routes for those with British family or UK ancestry, there is a Graduate visa for those finishing degrees in the UK to stay on and work for a further two years, and there are over 200,000 people in the UK under the Ukraine Visa Scheme. Additionally, the Youth Mobility Scheme allows young people of certain nationalities to work in the UK for two years and there is a separate visa dedicated to interns.

Further review

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) will be commissioned once again to conduct a full review of the new ISL during 2024 that will include a public call for evidence. It is vitally important that all sponsors take this opportunity to feed into this review by providing substantial, evidence-based responses wherever possible. The MAC will in turn make recommendations to the Home Secretary; recommendations which for the most part are implemented in the government’s regular updates to the immigration rules.

Kirsty Moore, manager and solicitor, Fragomen