Changes to the Skilled Worker visa

In early December the UK government announced important eligibility changes to the Skilled Worker visa. This announcement attracted a lot of press coverage, so this is a short article explaining the changes and how they might effect intending PhD Researchers.

On 4 December 2023 the Home Office announced an increase in the earnings threshold required for a Skilled Worker visa. This was raised by nearly 50% from its current position of £26,200 to £38,700. The reason given for this rise was ‘encouraging businesses to look to British talent first and invest in their workforce’. In addition, the government ‘will also increase the minimum income required for British citizens and those settled in the UK who want their family members to join them’.

Many changes to the visa system since 2019

One of the first announcements under Boris Johnson’s premiership back in September 2019 was to reintroduce the 2 year post study visa. At the time the announcement introduced the new “graduate route (that) will allow eligible students to work, or look for work, at any skill level, for a period of two years after completing their courses. There will be no cap on the number of students who can apply for the new route”.

This became law on 1 July 2021. Notwithstanding the effects of Covid-19,  it led to a significant increase in international student applications. In addition, a special scheme waived the visa requirements for attendance on campus in the lockdown periods.

On 30 May 2022 the High Potential Visa made headlines. The announcement explained 'the scheme is designed to attract the brightest talents from around the world, contributing to the UK’s position as a global leader in emerging and disruptive technologies’.

What has led to the recent rise in migration?

As a result of changes to study visas and other schemes, since 2019 the number of migrants entering the UK has increased greatly. Many students from China, Africa, India and other territories have taken advantage of study opportunities in the UK. Equally important is the Dependent visa scheme. This allows a family member to enter the UK while the student is studying. Visa’s issued to a dependent of an applicant have added to the tally as well.

By 2022 the net migration figure had reached 745,000, up from 184,000 in 2019. Responding to the rise, in May 2023, the UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman announced important changes. From the start of 2024, the dependent visa route would be closed to all except PhD students.

In December the new Home Secretary James Cleverly went further. He increased the salary threshold that a skilled worker from overseas would need. This rose from £26,200 to £38,700. In addition, the Government indicated they would be reviewing the post-study work visas as part of new measures to curb migration to the UK.

How does this effect postgraduate students?

The visa schemes have helped to boost the attractiveness of the UK as a work and study destination. Students looking to continue their studies can gain work experience in top tier graduate jobs. The graduate route is a great success. However, the visa situation is now more complex. If overseas workers decide to settle in the UK and bring dependents to live with them, they must now earn a salary of £38,700. Previously this was £26,200.

A change of plan before Christmas

A number of employers including universities expressed concern with this figure. In UK the UK Research and Administration provides funding for research studentships, and universities bid for these funds to undertake research projects. Very few junior research posts pay salaries that commence at this income band. However, after listening to views across of number of business sectors, the Government has revised this MIR figure (Minimum Income Requirement) down to £29,000. The Government shared an announcement in a written answer just before Christmas. The change will come into effect in the Spring 2024.

What is the outlook for post study visas?

The financial contribution of international students to the UK economy is substantial, but net migration is an important priority for the Government. This means that all ways of reducing numbers entering the UK is being considered. No doubt there will be changes to the graduate route. One suggestion is that it may be limited to specific subjects, such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

If you plan to study in the UK, and then settle on completion of your studies it is important to seek proper advice from your university and immigration experts before committing to any arrangements.

Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date with research funding and study opportunities.