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Guide to 2024’s UK immigration changes for employers, workers and family

Home Secretary James Cleverly’s brief statement just before Christmas raised more questions than answers. Some have now been clarified.

We now have more clarity on recent UK Government immigration diktats that have caused much consternation for employers who sponsor migrant workers, as well as for anyone intending to live in the UK with a partner from abroad.

Home Secretary James Cleverly’s brief statement just before Christmas raised more questions than answers. Some have now been clarified in ministerial responses and an updated Home Office factsheet. So below I have summarised what HR teams need to know about such developments.

If anyone has upcoming UK immigration applications that may be affected by new higher wage thresholds on top of a big hike in the Immigration Health Surcharge (see below), it is advisable that these are made swiftly, with professional advice in case anything goes wrong the first time.

Skilled Worker minimum salary threshold hike

The minimum salary to sponsor an employee on a Skilled Worker visa will rise from the current level of £26,200 to £38,700 next spring. Health and Care visas will be exempt, as will other professions on a national pay scale such as teachers. The Home Office now confirms this will happen in April 2024, so we expect a rush to get applications in this spring from HR teams seeking to sponsor new hires on less than £38,700.

There is also confirmation that Skilled Workers already on this immigration route will be able to extend, change sponsoring employer and settle without needing to meet the new £38,700 minimum salary threshold requirement. However, the Home Office expects “pay to progress at the same rate as resident workers” so they would “need to meet the updated 25th percentiles using the latest pay data.” In other words, they will need to continue to meet the going rate for their role that is in force when they make their next application.

Shortage Occupation List changes
Employers must pay Skilled Workers they sponsor the highest amount of the salary threshold, whatever the UK Government determine is the going rate for the occupation, or, in most cases the hourly rate of £10.75.

From “late spring” 2024, the Home Office confirms employers will no longer be able to hire immigrant workers at 20 per cent below the going rate for that job if their role is on the UK’s Shortage Occupation List which will then be rebranded the “Immigration Salary List.” The Government will also commission a review of this list which allows immigration concessions for occupations deemed to have urgent labour shortages in the UK.

There should still be a general salary threshold discount for shortage occupations on the new list which would be lower than the new Skilled Worker minimum threshold of £38,700, but we do not expect such details to be published for a while. If a rebranded list includes plenty of shortage occupations that do not pay as much as £38,700, that would mitigate the hit for employers currently having trouble finding staff for occupations paying less than this new minimum salary threshold.

Care workers visas will not include family dependants
Care workers – including senior care workers – will no longer be able to bring family dependants to the UK on their sponsored work visas. Firms will also have to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission if they want to sponsor care staff. These changes will occur “as soon as possible in the new year.”

This will not affect carers already on this immigration route, who will still be able to bring dependants to Britain and remain with their dependants, including when extending their visa, changing employer (within the same Standard Occupational Classification) and applying to settle in the UK.​ Employees in the UK on any other immigration route, including where that route permits dependants, who switch into the Skilled Worker category as a care worker or senior care worker after the rules change, will not be able to stay with (or bring over) their dependants.

Care providers who were sponsoring workers in exclusively non-regulated activities (and therefore not required to be registered with the CQC) before the rules change should be able to continue to sponsor these workers, including for extensions to their visa on those terms. But they will not be able to sponsor new ones.

Hike in minimum income requirement for family visas
The Government’s controversial plan to practically double the minimum income requirement for a British or settled person to bring their partner to the UK on a family visa from £18,600 to £38,700 – beyond the reach of 70% of the UK population – appears to be still going ahead in a second U-turn – though not this spring. (I’m not sure what you call two U-turns in a row, but it’s left anyone trying to keep up with all this dizzy).

The day after the Government issued a statement that the £38,700 minimum income requirement wouldn’t happen in the spring after all – as the Home Secretary told parliament last month – instead there would be three increases rising up to that prohibitive sum, the Prime Minister insisted: “We’re doing exactly as we said we would. We’re just doing it in two stages. So it will go up in a few months’ time and then it will go up again the full amount in early 2025.”

According to Rishi Sunak, the income the Home Office would expect a British or settled person to earn to prove they can support a partner will now be raised from £18,600 to £29,000 initially in the spring of 2024. The income threshold will only increase to £38,700 in early 2025. The UK is due a general election by the end of 2024 so whether a future government would want to increase the minimum income requirement as high as £38,700 remains to be seen. There will no longer be an extra minimum income requirement to bring in dependent children too.

The UK Government insists that British and settled people will still be able to use savings as well as the minimum income requirement to show that they can support a dependant partner on a family visa and that there would be exceptions in some circumstances where people cannot meet the required level. Even £29,000 means 40 to 50 per cent of British workers may be deemed unable to support a partner on a family visa on their salary alone under the new rules.

Those who already have a family visa or who apply before the minimum income threshold is raised this spring will continue to have their applications assessed against the current income requirement of £18,600 and will not be required to meet the increased threshold. Children seeking to join or accompany parents who already have permission (or apply for permission) before the rules change should not be disadvantaged either. Anyone granted a fiancé visa before the minimum income threshold is raised will also be assessed against the current income requirement when they come to apply for a family visa in the five-year partner route.

Those already in the UK on a different route who apply to switch into the five-year partner route after the minimum income requirement has been increased, will be subject to the new income requirement.

Graduate visa review
The Home Secretary also announced that following the prevention of non-research postgraduates from bringing family to the UK (announced earlier this year), the Graduate visa route which allows international graduates to live and work in the UK for two years (three for people completing doctoral courses) will be reviewed. The Graduate visa is useful for employers who want to employ international students after they finish their UK degrees without the commitments or bureaucracy of sponsoring them. This review will be carried out over the course of next year.

Other changes HR teams should be aware of
The increase in the Immigration Health Surcharge compulsory with most visa applications was due on 16 January – it will now be implemented on 31 January at the earliest as it has to be debated in parliament first. The charge will increase from £470 per year to £776 per year for children, students, youth mobility workers, from £624 per year to £1,035 per year for everyone else.

Britain’s reciprocal Youth Mobility Scheme for 18 to 30-year-olds to live and work unsponsored in the UK is expanding on 31 January, with Uruguay and Andorra joining. Australians and Canadians will be able to apply up to the age of 35 and to extend the visa which usually lasts two years to three. There will be more places for young workers from Japan and South Korea, so they will no longer need to apply in a ballot. South Koreans will be able to apply up to the age of 35.

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