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Expert guide to spring immigration rules statement of changes

Spring 2024 brings significant changes to immigration rules impacting employers sponsoring non-resident workers.

Spring 2024’s Immigration Rules Statement of Changes enacts major changes for employers sponsoring non-resident workers as part of the government’s drive to reduce legal migration.

Headlines have been dominated by minimum income increases from £18,600 to £29,000 and eventually £38,700 for sponsoring partners on family visas. Yet serious implications for employers sponsoring migrant workers have been largely underreported. HR teams that don’t want to jeopardise their eyesight squinting over a rather opaque 289-page Statement of Changes can find a summary of work visa changes which come into effect on 4 April below.

Salary hikes to sponsor new Skilled Workers

The Skilled Worker visa is the main post-Brexit work immigration route. To sponsor Skilled Workers employers must pay a salary matching or above whichever is the higher amount of the general visa threshold or a going rate of pay for the occupation code as set by the UK government.

On 4 April the general threshold a new Skilled Worker must be paid increases from £26,200 to £38,700. There are also increases to the salary threshold for those with discounts: from £23,580 to £34,830 for Skilled Workers with a relevant PhD and from £20,960 to £30,960 for those with a relevant STEM PhD, New Entrants, or those on the Immigration Salary List for shortage occupations.

Going rates for specific occupations are also increasing. The government set these at an amount matching the 25th percentile of salaries for that occupation according to the Office of National Statistics’ Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings: i.e. sponsors had to pay a wage above the bottom quarter of salaries for such a role. From 4 April, going rates will be set at the median for that occupation: i.e. sponsors will have to pay new workers on a Skilled Worker visa a wage that matches or exceeds that of half those employed in that role.

Shortage occupations

On 4 April the government is also replacing the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) with an Immigration Salaries List (ISL). There will be fewer occupations on it and no more 20% discount on the going rate that can be paid to fill these skills shortages, though the general salary threshold for Skilled Workers on the list will be £30,960 instead of £38,700.

So, for example, programmers and software developers were on the SOL as there is a current skills shortage. From 4 April their new minimum going rate with no more 20% discount is £49,400 – up from £27,200 (based on a 37.5-hour week). As this salary is higher than the £38,700 general Skilled Worker threshold, there is no point keeping the occupation on the new ISL. Roofers and roof tilers, on the other hand, with a new going rate of £31,000 are on the new ISL as they are a shortage occupation that benefits from not having to be paid the new full Skilled Worker general threshold of £38,700.

Renewing current Skilled Worker visas

 Migrants already on the Skilled Worker route before 4 April will be exempt from the above salary hikes when it comes to extending their visa, changing sponsoring employer or applying for settlement.

Their going rate of pay for their jobs will progress on updated 25th percentiles using the latest pay data rather than the much higher median, with a minimum general salary threshold of £29,000. The threshold will be £26,100 with a relevant PhD and £23,200 if they have a relevant STEM PhD, are on the SOL/ISL, New Entrants or on a national pay scale.

Skilled Workers currently sponsored in a role which was included on either the SOL or ISL list but is no longer on the list when they make their next application, may still be sponsored on the lower general threshold but only if they extend their visa to continue working in the same role for the same sponsor. Otherwise, their pay must meet the above general thresholds and the updated 25th percentile going rate as for others already sponsored as Skilled Workers before 4 April.

NB: The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system used to classify occupations is being updated from 2010 definitions to the newer SOC 2020 codes on 4 April. SOC codes for jobs will have different numbers, definition changes and some occupations no longer qualifying for Skilled Worker sponsorship. For example, SOC 6122 included childcare assistants, nannies and childminders. Childcare assistants will now be in SOC 6111: Early education and childcare assistants and childminders will be 6114: Childminders, while nannies and au pairs have been reassessed as below skill level RQF Level 3 – and therefore ineligible to be sponsored as Skilled Workers.

Nannies and other occupations no longer eligible will only be able to apply for a visa extension to continue working for the same employer. It will no longer be possible to be sponsored in these roles by a new employer.

Sponsoring staff on national pay scales or Health and Care visas

Predictably, the government has not subjected itself to the salary hikes that private sector sponsors now face. Skilled Workers on national pay scales such as teachers or medical practitioners may be sponsored on a minimum salary threshold of £23,200 – up from £20,960 on 4 April – and should be paid at least according to the national pay scale for that role.

New health and care workers not on a pay scale (such as Health care practice managers) have a general threshold increase from £26,200 to £29,000 and their going rate will increase along the 25th percentile, not the median. Health and care workers with a relevant PhD will have a threshold of £26,100 from 4 April and to sponsor those with a relevant STEM PhD, on the SOL/ISL or New Entrants, the general threshold will be £23,200.

Employing asylum seekers

At present the only jobs asylum seekers are permitted – and only if they have been waiting over 12 months for a decision through no fault of their own – are roles on the Shortage Occupation List.

With the SOL replaced by the ISL on 4 April, the government has ignored the Migration Advisory Committee’s repeated advice that asylum seekers that are permitted to work should be allowed to contribute in any job, or at the very least all skilled occupations. The Statement of Changes instead restricts asylum seekers even further to the very few shortage occupations which make it onto the new ISL.

This leaves many asylum seekers more in limbo unable to contribute and contrasts starkly with a useful change which allow Skilled Workers to undertake broader supplementary employment than before – in any skilled role.

Scale-up sponsors

The Scale-up sponsor licence becomes a more attractive alternative for organisations that qualify as scale-ups as the salary threshold for Scale-up visas only increases from £34,600 to £36,300 in April with a going rate set at the 25th percentile. With a lower sponsor licence fee, Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) fee and no Immigration Skills Charge to pay, I would advise companies with at least 20% annual growth to explore this route.

Global Business Mobility alternatives

Salary thresholds increase from £45,800 to £48,500 for most Global Business Mobility visas, with the Graduate Trainee route threshold raised from £24,220 to £25,410. Going rates for the Global Business Mobility routes will continue to be based on the 25th percentile of roles, with those on a Graduate Trainee visa continuing to benefit from a 30% discount to the going rate, making these routes another alternative for those that qualify. Global Business Mobility Senior or Specialist Workers, for instance, must be employed by overseas entities.

As with the Skilled Worker visa, some occupations currently eligible for sponsorship under Global Business Mobility rules have been reassessed to be below RQF Level 6 after 4 April and as such no longer skilled enough to be sponsored on this route. So interior designers and care home managers, for example, will only be able to apply to extend to continue working in their current role if they had permission in the same route before 4 April. Otherwise, they may apply to be sponsored in such jobs on the Skilled Worker route which allows a lower skill level.

Net effects

The Skilled Worker visa salary hikes will certainly hit some businesses harder than others, especially those in regions which pay significantly less than a “London wage”. The post-Brexit points-based immigration system that was meant to allow employers to source the skilled talent they could with free movement will become a whole lot more expensive for companies that don’t pay top range salaries. Firms may prefer to use Skilled Worker visas for more senior or essential roles now, or to rely more on Graduates, New Entrants and other work immigration routes without such high minimum salaries.

A Home Office impact assessment estimated that about 13% of those granted a Skilled Worker visa this year would have been deterred by the new salary hikes. However, there was no estimate of the cost to businesses.

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