We have highlighted below some significant immigration law changes that employers should watch out for in 2024.
Minimum salary threshold for sponsored visas
The UK government has announced that in April 2024 the general minimum salary needed to get a Skilled Worker visa will increase from £26,200 to £38,700 per year (or the going rate for the role if higher). Information on the proposed changes can be found in the announcement of 4 December 2023 and follow up factsheet of 21 December 2023. Further details of the rule changes are likely to be published in the coming months.
What is changing in terms of the general minimum salary threshold?
Under the current Skilled Worker rules there is a general minimum salary threshold of £26,200. However, there are lower/discounted general salary thresholds applicable in a number of cases including the following:
- 'New Entrants' (which includes those under the age of 26, those applying for certain postdoctoral positions in specific job codes, and those who are switching from a student or graduate visa, amongst others)
- Those who have a relevant PhD (relevant to the sponsored role)
- Those who have PhDs in a STEM subject relevant to the job
- Jobs on the Shortage Occupation List (a list of jobs where there are deemed to be shortages).
The UK government has not announced whether different lower general salary thresholds will apply to all of these categories and, if so, at what rate. It therefore remains unclear what salary 'discounts' to the general thresholds will apply and whether the criteria in terms of who qualifies for a discounted rate will change.
Shortage Occupation List to be renamed Immigration Salary List
The UK government has indicated that the Shortage Occupation List will cease to apply, and will be replaced with a new Immigration Salary List. It is unclear what salary thresholds will apply to jobs on that revised list. The Migration Advisory Committee will be commissioned to review the list.
Jobs on the Shortage Occupation List currently benefit from a 20% salary 'discount' to the going rate for the particular job code (SOC code). This going rate will be removed when the April 2024 changes are implemented. However, we do not know whether discounted visa application fees will apply to the new Immigration Salary List or whether other special concessions will apply to it.
Health and Care visas and national pay scale exemptions
There will be an exemption to the general minimum salary threshold for those eligible for a Health and Care visa. Certain exceptions will also apply to education workers on national pay scales.
Migrant care workers will no longer be able to bring dependants to the UK. Those care workers and senior care workers already in the route before the immigration rules change will be able to able to bring dependants during their sponsorship on this visa.
Care providers wishing to sponsor migrant care workers in England will need to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission. Further detail relating to care workers are in the 21 December 2023 factsheet.
Those already in the Skilled Worker route before the immigration rules change should be exempt from the new general salary threshold when they change sponsor, extend, or settle. However, they will be subject to the same going rate salary requirements when they next make an application to change employment, extend their stay or settle.
The effect of these transitional arrangements is that if an employee is sponsored under the current Skilled Worker rules for say 3 years (when the general minimum threshold is £26,200), they will be exempt from the new £38,700 requirement when they come to extend their visa. This is good news for employers able to sponsor employees before the rules change.
What should employers do about the proposed changes?
- Review future recruitment plans to consider what roles may become ineligible for sponsorship under the Skilled Worker route once the rule changes are implemented. In assessing this, bear in mind that there is a degree of uncertainty about the new rules until we have the details of what salary discounts may apply to New Entrants and others. Some employers may want to consider sponsoring before the April 2024 changes are implemented. If so you would need to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship and ensure that the visa application is made before the rule changes come into force.
- Review how many employees you have on Student, Graduate route or other fixed term dependant visas who may need to be sponsored at a later date. Sponsoring them under the current rules may be a sensible strategy for some. You may wish to consider if anyone currently on a Graduate route visa may become ineligible for sponsorship after April. Take advice on the costs and implications involved. You may also wish to consider the impact of the transitional arrangements that have been announced. Those applying for a Skilled Worker visa for the first time after the April 2024 changes are implemented are unlikely to benefit from the transitional arrangements.
- Employers who want to sponsor employees before the April 2024 changes may wish to review how many undefined Certificates of Sponsorship are available on their sponsor licence. Some employers may want to consider prioritising requests for additional undefined Certificates of Sponsorship to ensure that they can sponsor those they need to in time.
- It is possible that there may be an increased volume in sponsorship before the April 2024 changes. This could impact the timing of UKVI's services depending on the volume of applications made. Plan in advance if you can.
As well as the new rules on sponsored visas, there are some further immigration changes in the pipeline:
Immigration Health Surcharge
The Immigration Health Surcharge is to increase from £624 to £1,035 per year of the visa (£470 to £776 for students, Youth Mobility Scheme applicants and under 18s). This is a charge towards the costs of the NHS and it is payable by many visa holders. Some visas such as the Health and Care visa are exempt.
The increase will apply to visa applications made on or after 6 February 2024. Visa applications submitted before the change takes effect will benefit from the current fees. For further details please see the draft legislation here.
Illegal working fines
On 13 February 2024, civil penalties for illegal working are set to triple from (a maximum of) £20,000 to £60,000 per illegal worker. There are discounts applicable in some cases (for example for a first offence). For further detail please see the new statutory guidance which will apply from 13 February 2024.
From 31 January 2024, new rules will come into force for visitors to the UK who intend to carry out business activities in the UK. The changes include allowing some client facing activity for those visiting a UK branch/subsidiary in the same group; more permitted activities for overseas lawyers and speakers at conferences will be permitted to be paid. There are some helpful clarifications about the scope of remote working provided that remote working is not the primary purpose of the visit. On 7 December 2023, the UK government published the changes to the immigration rules here.
During 2024 the UK government is also expected to explore further reforms to the business visitor rules alongside the potential for further enhanced provisions linked to trade negotiations.
Graduate immigration route
The Graduate route will be reviewed by Migration Advisory Committee from Spring 2024. The MAC will be commissioned in January 2024 and that work is expected to continue until late 2024. Further changes to this route may be announced in due course.
Immigration compliance audits
In light of the changes coming into force in 2024, particularly the increased penalties for illegal working, now might be a good time to carry out an immigration compliance audit: find out how we can help.