The UK Government recently announced a number of changes to the Immigration Rules coming into force this year, some as soon as 12 April. They were announced in the Statement of Changes (9 March) and the Westminster Government's Spring Budget (15 March). The changes impact a wide spectrum of immigration categories (including the creation of a new Innovator Founder route).

Closure of Start-up and Innovator visa routes

It has been announced that both the Start-up and Innovator visa routes will close. The last date to apply under the Innovator route will be 12 April 2023. 

Transitional arrangements will be in place in relation to the Start-up route. The route will remain open to those who have an endorsement letter issued up to and including 12 April 2023 from an approved Start-up endorsing body until the 12 July 2023.

New Innovator Founder visa route

To replace the Start-up and Innovator routes, the new Innovator Founder route will open to new applicants from 13 April 2023. This new route is available for overseas nationals seeking to enter, or remain in the UK to establish a UK business based on an innovative, viable, and scalable business idea they have generated or have significantly contributed to.

Applicants will not need to show an initial capital investment of £50,000, as was the case under the previous Innovator route (although the endorsing bodies are still likely to require applicants to demonstrate that the necessary funds / resources are available to execute their business plan).

Individuals will also be able to carry out additional work in the UK for third parties (so long as it is work at level RQF level 3 or above). This is another change from the Innovator route which did not permit such work.

New endorsing bodies will be recognised and they will be required to confirm, amongst other things, that:

  • the applicant is considered a 'fit and proper person' to receive endorsement,
  • there are no concerns over the legitimacy of sources of funds, and
  • there is no reason to believe that the applicant nor their endorsed business may be the beneficiary of illicit or otherwise unsatisfactorily explained wealth.

Changes to the Skilled Worker and other sponsorship routes

Changes to the minimum salary thresholds under several routes, including Skilled Worker, Global Business Mobility: Senior and Specialist Worker and Scale-up have been announced from 12 April 2023. These changes will apply to those certificates of sponsorship assigned on or after the relevant dates mentioned.

Skilled Worker route

  • The general minimum salary threshold will increase from £25,600 to £26,200 per year.
  • The minimum hourly rate will be increased from £10.10 per hour to £10.75 per hour (subject always to minimum wage requirements being met).
  • For occupations on the shortage occupation list (and for new entrants), the general threshold will be increased from £20,480 to £20,960 per year.
  • Updates to the 'going rates' for Skilled Worker job codes have been announced and will be based on 37.5 hours per week (rather than the current 39 hours per week) from 12 April 2023.

Other routes

From 12 April 2023 the minimum salary threshold for the:

  • Senior and Specialist Worker route will increase from £42,400 to £45,800 per year
  • Scale-up route will increase from £33,000 to £34,600 per year.

Introduction of the Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme

The introduction of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme will begin its roll out this year. An ETA is a digital permission to travel, similar to the US ESTA scheme. It will be required by all non-visa nationals coming to the UK for up to six months as a visitor, including transit visitors.

Qatari visitors will be the first to be able to apply for an ETA in October 2023, before further roll out in 2024.

Once the ETA scheme becomes operational, non-visa nationals may need to factor in time to apply for an ETA in advance of visits to the UK (at the moment, most non-visa nationals do not need to apply for any kind of approval in advance of their visits to the UK). It is likely that anyone refused an ETA will have to apply for a visit visa in advance so employers may wish to factor the timing of this into any business visits which are planned.

Further information on the launch of the ETA scheme can be found here.

What other changes have been announced?

  • Amendments to the Global Business Mobility – Expansion Worker route from 12 April 2023, which mean applicants who are nationals or permanent residents from Australia do not need to show that they have worked for their overseas employer for the 12 months prior to their application.
  • The expansion of the Youth Mobility Scheme to nationals of New Zealand up to the age of 35, rather than 30, and the length of stay being increased from two to three years from 29 June 2023.
  • Changes to the business visitor visa route are also expected in Autumn 2023, which will expand the range of short-term business activities that can be carried out as a visitor, as well as a review of permitted paid engagements. The specific wording and changes on this are still to be announced.
  • The Migration Advisory Committee ('MAC') have released an interim report on the shortages within the Construction and Hospitality sector. The MAC's recommendation was to include five construction occupation codes on the shortage occupation list and the UK Government has accepted these recommendations. The exact timing of this has not be specified but we understand the intention is to do this before the summer parliamentary process.

More information 

We are waiting for further policy information on these changes, however for now, further details on the changes to the rules can be found in the Statement of Changes, Explanatory Memorandum and published Spring Budget.

For more information on any of the issues discussed in this blog, please contact Elaine McIlroy or Erin McLafferty.