Implementing new immigration income thresholds, requiring immigrants to earn above £38,700 to qualify for work and residence in the UK from 2026, has sparked considerable debate with the increased tapering income amounts.

In 2019/20, within the overall net internal migration to Predominantly Rural areas of 97,500, there was net internal migration outwards of 17 to 20 years olds of 34,100. This official data is backed by government findings that outward migration continues to be a significant drain on remote areas in rural areas across the UK.

This report delves into the rural perspective on these changes, drawing from a survey conducted among rural community residents. It aims to shed light on their awareness, opinions, and perceived impacts of these legislative modifications.

The survey comes amid criticisms of UK central government policy on immigration to rural areas and efforts by decentralised governments, including Scotland, to emulate programmes similar to the Atlantic Pilot Programme, which has been active in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, otherwise known as the Maritimes.

Previously covered by FERN, the news of impending immigration costs to keep in line with inflation is causing panic in many areas, including hospitality. Read our previous research on this topic here.


A comprehensive survey was distributed among rural residents, collecting diverse viewpoints through detailed questions. The questionnaire explored participants’ demographic backgrounds, their understanding and awareness of the new rules, their opinions on the income threshold, the anticipated effects on rural areas, and their suggestions for policy adjustments or enhancements.

Key Findings

  • Awareness and Understanding “I knew about the changes but didn’t really grasp all the details,” one respondent confessed, highlighting a common sentiment among participants regarding their understanding of the new immigration rules.
  • Impact on Rural Communities Concerns were widely expressed about the detrimental effects these rules could have on rural areas. A participant noted, “We’re already struggling with labour shortages. This will only make things worse, especially for our farms and local businesses.”
  • Views on the Income Threshold The £38,700 threshold was a contentious topic. While a few saw some logic in the government’s approach, the majority criticised it as unrealistic. “It’s completely out of touch with reality in rural areas,” remarked another respondent. “How many jobs here actually pay that much?”
  • Suggestions for Policy Modifications Respondents offered various suggestions for improving the policy. One such recommendation was, “The government needs to consider exemptions for sectors vital to the rural economy, like agriculture.” Another suggested, “Why not lower the threshold, or adjust it based on regional living costs?”
  • Government Support Measures Survey participants deemed Additional government support essential. “There should be more investment in rural services and infrastructure to mitigate any negative impacts from these rules,” one respondent suggested, noting the need for a holistic approach to supporting rural communities.
  • Overall Stance The overall sentiment towards the new immigration rules was largely negative. “This policy seems to ignore the unique challenges and contributions of rural areas,” stated a participant, reflecting a common viewpoint among respondents.

Tailored Regional Thresholds

Countries like Canada and Australia have implemented regional immigration programs with varying criteria, recognising the distinct economic environments across different areas. These programs often feature lower income thresholds or offer additional points for immigrants willing to settle in rural or remote areas. The UK could adopt a similar model, adjusting the income threshold based on regional living costs and wage levels. This approach would make rural areas more accessible to immigrants who can contribute to local economies without necessarily meeting the higher income standards set for urban centres.

New Zealand’s approach to addressing labour shortages in specific sectors could serve as a model for the UK. By creating targeted visa categories for industries critical to rural economies, such as agriculture and healthcare, New Zealand has attracted workers where they are most needed. The UK could introduce similar sector-specific schemes, exempting certain critical roles from the general income threshold or setting a separate, more attainable threshold for these sectors.

Community Sponsorship Models

The community sponsorship model, used in Canada, allows communities to play a direct role in resetting immigrants, including refugees. This model not only aids integration but also ensures that the newcomers are a good fit for the community’s needs. The UK could expand its existing community sponsorship schemes to include economic immigrants, allowing rural communities to identify and sponsor workers that meet their specific needs.

Effective integration of immigrants into rural communities is crucial for their success and the community’s well-being. Germany’s “Welcome Centres” offer a valuable example. These centres provide a one-stop shop for immigrants, offering information and services ranging from language classes to employment assistance. The UK could establish similar centres in rural areas, providing support tailored to the needs of both immigrants and the local community.

Incentives for Employers and Immigrants

Financial incentives could be offered to both employers and immigrants to encourage the employment of immigrants in rural areas. For example, tax breaks for businesses that hire immigrants or grants for immigrants starting rural businesses could be explored.

Such incentives could make rural areas more attractive to both parties, stimulating local economies and addressing labour shortages.

Conclusion & Recommendations

Adopting these global best practices could significantly enhance the effectiveness of the UK’s immigration policy in supporting rural communities. By tailoring policies to the unique needs of these areas, the government can ensure that immigration contributes positively to the entire country’s socio-economic fabric.

Engaging with rural communities, understanding their specific challenges and opportunities, and learning from international experiences are critical steps in developing a more inclusive and effective immigration system.

The survey uncovers significant reservations within rural communities regarding the new immigration income thresholds. There is a strong call for a more considerate approach that acknowledges the unique economic and social fabric of rural areas.

Recommendations include revising the income threshold to reflect the realities of rural employment, introducing sector-specific exemptions, and enhancing government support for affected communities.

Our findings indicate that engaging directly with rural communities in policy-making is crucial. As one respondent aptly said, “Policies should reflect the needs of all parts of the country, not just the urban centres. We’re all part of the UK, after all.”

The concerns raised by rural communities in the UK regarding the new immigration income thresholds echo challenges faced by rural areas worldwide. Drawing on global experiences, this section expands on the initial recommendations by incorporating best practices that have successfully addressed similar issues in other countries.

The goal is to offer a well-rounded approach to refining UK immigration policies to benefit rural communities.

The Future Economic Rural Network conducted this survey through winter 2023/24 with findings coming from several rural locations across the United Kingdom, including Scotland and Northern Ireland. Our survey totalled more than 39 respondents in the research phase.


Informed Reading with Search Strategies

Immigration Policy

  • Title: World Migration Report 2023
  • Author(s): International Organization for Migration (IOM)
  • Publisher: International Organization for Migration (IOM)
  • Search Strategy: Visit the International Organization for Migration website ( and search for “World Migration Report 2023.” They likely offer a summary or key findings document you can reference.

Regional Thresholds

  • Title: Setting the Right Tone: How Regional Migration Caps Can Be Designed to Work for the US Economy
  • Author(s): National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
  • Publisher: National Academies Press
  • Search Strategy: Go to the National Academies Press website ( and search for the report title or similar publications on “regional migration caps.”

Sector-Specific Visa Programs

  • Title: Global Talent Mobility: Why Migration Makes Sense for Businesses
  • Author(s): McKinsey & Company
  • Publisher: McKinsey & Company
  • Search Strategy: Use a general search engine to find reports by reputable consulting firms or business organizations that discuss the benefits of sector-specific visa programs. Look for free, downloadable versions or summaries.

Community Sponsorship Models

  • Title: Refugees Welcome: How Communities Are Helping Resettle New Arrivals
  • Author(s): Migration Policy Institute
  • Publisher: Migration Policy Institute
  • Search Strategy: Visit the Migration Policy Institute website ( and search for publications or resources on “community sponsorship models” for refugees. They might have free reports or summaries.

Integration Support Services

  • Title: Integration of Migrants: A Review of Evidence on Policies and Practices
  • Author(s): Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  • Publisher: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  • Search Strategy: Check the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development website ( for a downloadable report or webpage on integration support services for migrants. They often have free publications or summaries.