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Home Office announces major changes to UK Immigration Rules

Published: 15 December 2023
Time to read: 3 mins

Passport Control and the United KIngdom, UK Border Control at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5, London, England, Great Britain, Europe

Last week the Home Secretary announced the largest shake-up to the UK’s work visa rules since the system was overhauled post-Brexit.

What changes have been announced?

The Government has announced its “five point plan” as follows:

  1. Under the Skilled Worker visa (the main work visa route in the UK) sponsored workers must be paid either (i) the “general minimum” salary, or (ii) the “going rate” for the specific role in question – whichever is higher. The general minimum annual salary is set to rise from £26,200 to £38,700; a rise of nearly 50%.  The going rate salary for specific roles will also rise, with the exception of roles in the Health and Social Care sector.
  2. Under current rules, the “Shortage Occupation List” applies to the Skilled Worker visa route and allows Licenced Sponsors to potentially pay sponsored workers 20% less than the applicable going rate if their role appears on this List. This concession will largely be removed.
  3. Sponsored Workers in the Health and Social Care sector will not be permitted to bring dependant family members to the UK. As things currently stand, Skilled Workers can bring Dependants to the UK as part of their application and this will continue to be the case for workers not in Health and Social Care roles.
  4. The Graduate visa route – which allows students to remain in the UK and work for 2 or 3 years post-study without the need for sponsorship by a Licenced Sponsor – is to be reviewed by the Migration Advisory Committee. This is intended to “prevent abuse” of the system in future.
  5. The minimum income threshold for family visas will increase from £18,000 to £37,800.

As well as these changes, the Home Office previously announced that civil penalties for employing an illegal worker will rise from £20,000 to £60,000.  There will also be an increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge – the fee payable by most migrant workers for access to NHS services (IHS).  The IHS will rise from £624 to £1,035 per year.

When are these changes being implemented?

Most of the changes are planned for Spring 2024, with a specific date for their introduction to be confirmed in due course.  The rises to the IHS and illegal worker penalties will be implemented in January 2024.

How will this affect businesses?

Ultimately, these changes will make it more difficult for Licenced Sponsors to sponsor overseas workers – particularly in the Skilled Worker route – and will generally reduce the talent pool for Scottish businesses.  The minimum salary changes will likely have a significant effect on sectors like hospitality and retail, where salaries are traditionally at the lower end of the scale.  It is also worth noting that the UK immigration rules are not regionalised and that these changes will apply across the board.  As such, the changes are likely to have a greater adverse effect on businesses in Scotland’s rural areas where salaries tend to be lower than in major cities.

What should businesses do now?

The specific details and implementation date for the changes are still to be confirmed.  However, any Licenced Sponsor who is considering sponsoring a candidate as a Skilled Worker should consider whether the process can be expedited before the changes are implemented.  More generally, businesses that employ a significant proportion of foreign workers should review ongoing recruitment and retention strategies.

If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this article further, please get in touch with a member of our Employment Law team.

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