The proposed threshold of income of £38,700 is a particularly dangerous metric because median salaries of architects often fall below this number. In the RIBA’s data from 2022, a registered Architect with less than 5 years experience could expect a median salary of £35,000. Other recruiting agencies report median salaries to be £37,400 and £37,500. The Pay100 index, reporting the top 100 practices in the UK based on salary income, shows that companies would stop qualifying for the new migrant threshold at number 64 out of 100. Number 64 is the world renowned practice Feilden Clegg Bradley Studio. Worse yet, only the top two practices would qualify for Masters graduates. Few architectural workers will be lucky enough to be in these prestigious practices.
The government claims the visa eligibility change will reduce net migration by 300,000 a year.
‘One your time is up on that graduate visa, you’re into £38,700 territory straightaway. If you want to extend that, you’ll have to pay [staff coming from overseas] £38,700 – unless architects stay on the shortage occupation list, which is unlikely,’ said Rollason.
Home secretary James Cleverly said in an announcement last week (4 December) that, from next spring, the income needed for foreign workers seeking to work in the UK would rise from £26,200 to £38,700.
Under the framework of this policy, it won’t be enough for migrant students and graduates to become an architect. They must also find safe and permanent employment in the top 36 architectural practices in the United Kingdom. With many practices facing large scale layoffs and financial insecurity, it’s troubling that workers are likely to be in even more precarious conditions by the time Cleverley’s policies come into effect in the Spring of next year.
Rollason explained that, because smaller practices currently benefit from a 30 per cent discount on salaries for foreign graduates under new entrant criteria for Skilled Worker visas, the impact of the hiked salary requirement will likely be felt when an individual’s graduate visa ends.
Criticising the move, the Section of Architectural Workers (SAW) union said in a statement (see below), that ‘£38,700 is a particularly dangerous metric, because median salaries of architects often fall below this number.’
‘Many architectural workers in and outside of SAW hail from migrant backgrounds,’ said the trade union. ‘SAW categorically rejects what it sees as a naked attempt to erase migrants and to pit workers against each other.’
It remains unclear what changes to the new entrant criteria, if any, will be introduced.
‘So there’s gonna be a problem for those who are either still looking to qualify under Part 3 or have qualified but [are earning] less than £38,700.’
Chapell added that the profession was still ‘working on business plans and architectural fees based upon historic salaries which have often increased very little in the last 20 years’ and that clients needed to pay more for architectural services.
‘There are already skills shortages developing and, due to the cost of living crisis, the architectural staff who are looking for new work are often seeking significantly higher salaries,’ Chappell said.
(This piece was written through dialogue in the SAW community)
Future Architects Front (FAF)
However, this will likely change, as the government is also set on scrapping the shortage occupation list in its current form in the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
Salaries in this year’s Pay 100 survey showed that income varies widely between practices, ranging between just £19,000 to £31,000 for Part 1 assistants – well below the new visa threshold.
In the face of their imminent loss of power, the Conservative Government have resorted to attacks on immigration and outright xenophobia. From the hiked minimum salary for skilled workers to the decision that care workers may not bring their families to the UK, these policies will not only harm immigrants in the UK – but will also further degrade our crumbling social infrastructure. Architects, teachers, and junior doctors will all fall below the new salary threshold for the skilled worker visa. Through the BMA, however, junior doctors have immediately mobilised strike action in response to this news and to combat their own pay stagnation. Can we ever hope for such an organised response from architectural workers? I believe so, but to achieve that we need more architects to join the Section of Architectural Workers and to finally shake off the delusion that they are above the working class.