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What has Changed for Medical Migrants Due to the New UK Immigration Rules in 2024

The UK Health and Care Worker Visa has been instrumental in attracting talented medical professionals from overseas to contribute to the National Health Service (NHS) and social care sectors.

Recent changes implemented by the government in 2024 have altered the landscape for medical migrants seeking to live and work in the UK. While these reforms reflect the government’s priorities in bringing down net migration figures, they also hold some implications for individuals, businesses, and families.

This article delves into these changes and how they impact migrants and the UK’s healthcare system.  

The New Immigration Rules for Medical Migrants

Increase in Minimum Salary Threshold

In April 2024, the minimum salary threshold for health and care workers on national pay scales (occupations paid by NHS bands) increased from £20,960 to ​​£23,200 annually. Health and care roles under the pay scale must meet the going rate for their role or the new minimum threshold, whichever is higher. 

Additionally, health and care roles not on the national pay scales, such as public health managers and directors, biochemists, and biological scientists, will need to meet a general minimum salary threshold of £29,000 or the going rate for the role, whichever is higher. 

Furthermore, roles that require a Skilled Worker (SW) Visa, such as IT personnel and finance professionals, but are sponsored by an NHS organisation, will need to meet the new SW salary threshold of £38,700 annually. 

Removal of the Shortage Occupation List

The Shortage Occupation List (SOL), which allowed employers to pay 20% less than the going rates for roles on the list, has been replaced with the Immigration Skill List (ISL). 

The new ISL will not sponsor workers for 20% less but will use a general threshold discount. For health and care roles on the ISL, such as laboratory and pharmaceutical technicians, care workers and home carers, and senior care workers, the salary threshold is set at either £23,200. Sponsors must either pay the threshold or the occupation-specific going rate, whichever is higher. 

Restrictions on Dependents

The UK government also decided to restrict care workers (SOC code 6145) and senior care workers (SOC code 6146) from bringing dependents to the UK, which became effective from March 11, 2024. 

According to Home Office data, dependents under the health and care route accounted for 73% of all work-dependent visas granted in 2023. Since care workers are exempted from a higher salary requirement than the skilled worker route, the UK government introduced the ban on bringing dependents to the UK as a way to limit the total number of visa applications.  

The Home Office recorded a decline in health and care dependent applications in the first month of this policy being in force. Applications fell by almost 60%, from 15,100 in April 2023 to 6,400 in April 2024.

Regulation of Sponsors

Sponsors in the care sector are now required to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) before they can sponsor migrants under the Health and Care Worker visa route. This also took effect from 11 March 2024.

The government took this decision to address concerns about non-compliance, worker exploitation, and abuse of migrant workers within the care sector.

Care providers who were sponsoring workers in exclusively non-regulated activities and were not required to register with the CQC will be able to continue to sponsor these workers, including for visa extensions. However, they will be unable to hire new workers for non-regulated activities. 

The Impact of the Reforms on the Medical Community

The increase in the minimum salary threshold for health and care workers might not be as high as that for the skilled worker route, but it is still a significant increase. Social care jobs were already among some of the lowest-paid jobs in the UK, and with this increase, some employers might find it challenging to sponsor migrant workers. 

Additionally, the restriction on dependents has raised some concerns among social care organisations in the UK. Since carers can no longer bring their families to join them, there will be a shortage of foreign workers applying for care roles. 

The UK government says more organisations should consider hiring UK workers and, where necessary, filling critical skills gaps with highly skilled migrant workers. This dual approach can help improve the UK economy.  

The government has also introduced some measures to aid the recruitment of domestic care workers. These measures include:

  • The launch of the Care Workforce Pathway as a national career structure for the adult social care workforce.
  • The provision of over £50 million for a new level 2 Care Certificate qualification that will support up to 37,000 individuals in adult social care roles. 
  • An investment of over £20 million that will enable local authorities and adult social care providers to train and supervise new social work apprentices.
  • An uplift to the Workforce Development Fund that will subsidise access to learning and development.
  • The introduction of a new digital leadership qualification that will equip social care leaders and managers to lead the implementation and use of technology in care delivery.

Furthermore, with the CQC registration requirement, the government plans to end the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers and ensure that non-care agencies will not fraudulently recruit workers through the health and care route. 

Conclusion

The changes to Health and Care Worker Visa is aimed at streamlining immigration processes and prioritizing skilled workers in key care sectors. However, it has introduced new challenges for international medical professionals seeking to work in the UK. 

If you’re considering migrating to the UK to contribute to its healthcare system, it is essential to seek professional guidance from an immigration lawyer. A lawyer can assess your eligibility for the Health and Care Worker Visa, provide you with alternative pathways, guide you through the application process.  

Meta Title: Changes to the UK Health and Care Worker Visa Route in 2024

Meta Description: The UK Health and Care Worker Visa has undergone some significant changes in 2024 that might influence how UK employers recruit medical migrants.