UK Immigration Policies from the Two Manifestos: What's Next for European Skilled Workers Post-Salary Hike? 

Luca Casciotta, Intern

Late last year, the landscape for international students and prospective skilled workers shifted dramatically as the UK government raised the minimum earnings requirement for eligibility for a Skilled Worker Visa from £26,200 to £38,700. Since the UK general election was announced on the 22nd May, both the Labour and Conservative parties have made immigration a central theme in their manifestos, so what might we expect to see on the topic moving forward, and what does the future careers of international students look like in the UK?

The change to minimum earnings, can become prohibitive for internationals students striving to remain employed in the UK upon graduation. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the majority of graduates in full-time UK employment earn between £24,000 and £26,999 per year. Comparatively, data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the average annual salary for British citizens aged between 30 and 40 is £37,544. There is clearly a significant challenge for graduate students to meet the new £38,700 salary threshold, not only jeopardizing their prospects but also hindering their ability to contribute to the UK workforce. 

Having raised the threshold themselves last year, the Conservative Party claims in their manifesto that this change would "stop immigration from undercutting British workers.” Considering Labour's previous position as the opposition party even a mild rebuke of this policy could have been expected. Conversely due the sensitive nature of immigration, particularly post-Brexit, Labour criticized the Conservatives for their heavy reliance on foreign workers to address skills shortages. Whilst Labour have not directly addressed the minimum salary threshold change, they have hinted at even heavier measures coming forward. 

The UK has provided a meritocratic system that gave students financial support and the resources they needed to succeed. Britain has always benefited from this strategy. Historically, EU students have significantly contributed to the British economy, it is estimated that the total economic benefits contributed to the UK economy across the academic year 2021/22 was £41 billion from international students collectively. By overlooking the minimum salary change, both parties could discourage a generation of international students from choosing the UK for their studies.

This approach could disrupt key industries, including healthcare and education, further aggravating existing shortages. The higher education sector could struggle in meeting the higher salary requirements for crucial positions to professional training and vocational courses, potentially affecting the quality of services. For students, especially from Europe, they will be unable to remain in the country and begin working, and any investment made on British education will not yield the expected benefits. 

Looking ahead, the incoming government could look to explore Skilled worker VISA regulations tailored to relevant sectors, instead of a blanket minimum salary.  This approach would ensure competitiveness of industries dependent on immigration, and yet more importantly, keep attracting international students thus representing global excellence in higher education. 

Fostering the same opportunities that allowed me to thrive in this country is crucial to maintaining the UK as a welcoming destination for international and European students through its meritocratic system. Therefore, adopting sector-specific Skilled Worker Visa regulations, rather than a blanket salary threshold, would maintain Britain as the heart of academic innovation and excellence in Europe. It would then retain the country’s status as the vibrant, diverse country that welcomes and nurtures global talent.

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