Prospect warns UK science at risk from punitive immigration income threshold

26 January 2024

Prospect union, which represents workers in scientific and STEM-based roles at organisations across the public, private and third sectors, has warned that the new income threshold for Skilled Worker visas will have a negative impact on the UK’s ability to recruit and retain skilled scientists.

Members and employers have expressed grave concerns about the new threshold.

Prospect has written to minsters to express concern at the change, highlight specific issues, and to seek clarification on a number of points which are not clear.

According to the latest ONS data, if the 50% rise in the salary threshold were applied to the existing working population a threshold of £38,700 would exclude:

  • More than 60% of science, engineering and production technicians; building and civil engineering technicians; pharmaceutical technicians; professional archivists and curators; chemical scientists; and environmental professionals
  • More than 70% of IT technicians; professional inspectors of standards and regulations
  • More than 75% of laboratory technicians; data analysts; quality assurance technicians; and IT operations technicians
  • This threat is demonstrated by typical pay levels in key organisations across the science and STEM landscape. In many organisations, around half the jobs pay less than the proposed threshold. For example:
  • The Met Office, where 1 in 4 workers earn less than £33,000 (excluding performance-related pay) and half of workers earn less than £38,000
  • UKRI, where half of employees earn less than £39,748

Questions Prospect has asked for urgent answers to include:

  • What evidence, consultation or impact assessment are these proposals based upon, and what will be the process for interested parties to submit views?
  • Is it proposed that the new thresholds will apply to positions that have already been offered but are due to commence after April? Long lead-times such as this are not uncommon in the science and STEM sectors.
  • What flexibility will be offered to allow organisations to build their workforce through early careers schemes, which will be particularly unlikely to be paid at levels approaching the threshold?

Sue Ferns, Senior Deputy General Secretary of Prospect, said:

“This rushed and ill-considered policy could fatally damage the standing of the UK as a global leader in science.

“It is clear that changes to the salary threshold are more about managing internal Conservative Party problems than striking a sensible balance to meet the current and future needs of the UK economy or society. What kind of message does it send to all those in STEM and science who are working to maintain our global reputation in these fields?

“The Government would do well to apply a bit more scientific method to its policy making instead of chasing headlines.”