Want to work in the UK? You’ll need to earn £38,700 under Tory plan

LONDON — U.K. Home Secretary James Cleverly has unveiled a steep hike in the minimum salary overseas workers will need to earn to work in the U.K.

Announcing a raft of new measures as the governing Conservative Party fights to show it is getting a grip on record legal migration numbers, Cleverly announced that the current salary threshold for a skilled visa will rise from £26,200 to £38,700 from spring 2024, except for those coming to work in the health and social care sectors.

The move puts the threshold nearly £4,000 higher than the average U.K. salary of £34,963, and marks a sharp change in direction from the post-Brexit regime meant to favor skilled workers.

Net migration hit a new record high of 672,000 in the year ending June 2023, according to the latest official estimates, despite a promise by the Conservatives to tame the numbers in their 2019 manifesto.

It means the government is under mounting pressure from its own MPs to act.

Announcing a “five point plan” in the House of Commons on Monday, Cleverly vowed to oversee the “biggest ever reduction in net migration,” and claimed his plan would, over time, cut annual net migration by 300,000.

Overseas care workers will no longer be allowed to bring dependents to the U.K. under the plan, and there will be tougher salary requirements on the “shortage occupation list,” which currently eases restrictions in sectors of the economy facing a squeeze on staff.

Some 557,277 people came to the U.K. as a dependent of someone on a work, study, or health and social care visa in the year ending September 2023, the latest data shows. Conservative MPs are keen to see action on this front.

Responding, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said Cleverly’s pledges marked “an admission of years of total failure by this Conservative government,” and were “another example of the total chaos at the heart of this government.”

Tory MP Alex Stafford, a member of the New Conservatives caucus demanding action on migration, told POLITICO Playbook PM the measures are “very, very welcome.”

“Numbers are far too high,” he said. “We all know that the next election will be fought on migration, and this clearly shows we are making a stand.”

Business lobby groups — whom Conservatives have previously accused of being wedded to cheaper overseas labor — sounded a note of caution on the new plans.

“Businesses support the government’s objective to focus on productivity growth as the long-term answer to labor shortages,” said Matthew Percival of the CBI in a statement.

“However, inflation-busting increases to minimum salary requirements and charges won’t address the shortages that are currently holding back business investment and growth.”