Theresa May made the announcement today, in a move that was welcomed by Universities UK – which has repeatedly warned the government that its visa restrictions for overseas students will damage universities and the UK economy unless mitigated.
The pay threshold will apply to people wanting to remain permanently after more than five years working in the UK.
The Home Office said in a press statement that in future “skilled temporary workers wanting to apply for settlement will have to earn at least £35,000 or the going rate for their job, whichever is higher”.
But it added: “Migrants doing jobs which are on the shortage occupation list, as well as scientists and researchers in PhD level roles will be exempt from the £35,000 threshold.”
The Home Office is seeking to implement a Conservative manifesto pledge to reduce net migration into the UK to the “tens of thousands” by 2015 – meaning a tightening of visa rules for students coming to the UK from outside the European Union.
Nicola Dandridge, UUK chief executive, said of today’s announcement: “The government has responded to the concerns of Universities UK and universities by exempting PhD-level jobs from the new pay threshold for settlement.
“We argued strongly that such international academics and researchers should be made exempt from any pay threshold on the basis that their salaries are not comparable to those of highly skilled migrants working in other sectors.
“But notwithstanding their salary levels, international researchers make a significant contribution to universities, the UK economy and society.
“The UK remains one of the best places in the world in which to conduct world-leading research. If we are to continue to produce Nobel Prize-winning research and groundbreaking work, we must offer a welcoming environment to the best academics from around the world.”