UK Immigration Rules: What to expect in 2024?
Wed 17 Jan 2024
This year, 2024, is pivotal for UK immigration regulations aimed at bringing down net migration and stamping out abuse of the immigration system. While the UK government is set to enforce new immigration rules, it also plans to liberalise certain immigration routes. Notably, changes regarding the Immigration Health Surcharge and civil penalties for employing an illegal worker were expected in January 2024 but are now postponed to February or later, pending Parliament’s approval.
The new immigration rules also touch on sponsor licence requirements, entry clearance procedures, and income thresholds.
This impacts the recruitment of skilled workers, including education and care workers, and how UK employers navigate the immigration system. The youth mobility scheme and the graduate route also receive attention, offering opportunities for international students and young professionals to come to the UK.
Remote working policies, indefinite leave regulations, and reasonable grounds for changing employment are part of this comprehensive update. This is a dynamic landscape where further details on work visas, salary thresholds, and the process of recruiting workers are continually evolving.
Our focus in this article is the main immigration changes of 2024 that will impact employers. These are highlighted below.
Illegal working civil penalty increase
Civil penalties for illegal employment are set to triple from February 13, 2024.
Parliament established the new maximum civil penalty regulation on January 23, 2023, and will be effective in 10 days.
Under this regime, UK employers face heightened penalties if they unknowingly employ an individual lacking proper authorisation, particularly relevant in sectors like education and healthcare. The maximum penalty for illegal working will rise sharply, from £20,000 to £60,000 per illegal worker, with the first breach penalty starting at £45,000, up from £15,000.
Concurrently, the “Code of Practice on Preventing Illegal Working: Right to Work Scheme for Employers” will also be implemented. This document details:
Methods for employers to create a statutory excuse to avoid penalties for illegal working.
A summary of the administration of the civil penalty system.
Guidelines for determining liability and calculating penalty amounts for initial and subsequent violations of the right-to-work scheme.
Employers must now be more diligent in conducting right-to-work checks, adhering to Home Office guidance to avoid hefty fines.
Employers receiving a penalty notice from 13 February 2024 onwards will be governed by the revised code of practice for penalty calculations. If the unauthorised employment addressed in the notice ended on or before 12 February 2024, the new rules do not apply.
The updated guidelines include a cap of £45,000 for a first violation and up to £60,000 for each unauthorised worker in cases of subsequent violations.
For more information, see our article here.
Intensified sponsor compliance action
During 2022 and 2023, the UK Home Office significantly intensified its compliance actions regarding sponsor licences, particularly focusing on the health and care visa sector. This surge, which followed a hiatus during the peak of the pandemic, aligns with the UK government’s strict stance on illegal working under UK immigration law. In 2024, this trend is expected to persist, especially with new immigration rules affecting sectors like care workers and education workers.
UK employers sponsoring workers under the skilled worker route must be vigilant about their sponsorship duties, ensuring robust HR systems and practices.
The risk of non-compliance may escalate during economic downturns as businesses restructure, impacting the roles of sponsored workers, including skilled workers and overseas care workers.
It’s advisable for sponsors to undertake sponsor licence refresher training or mock audits. This is particularly pertinent for those employing foreign workers through routes such as the graduate route, the youth mobility scheme, or the seasonal worker route.
Additionally, sponsors must stay informed about the latest developments from the Migration Advisory Committee and understand the implications for their sector, be it care providers or UK employers in general.
Restrictions on the Skilled Worker route
On December 4, 2023, the UK Government unveiled a comprehensive five-point plan aimed at reducing net migration, a move in response to recent surges in net migration figures. This plan notably includes significant amendments to the UK immigration law for 2024, with a particular focus on refining the skilled worker route under the immigration rules. These changes are expected to impact net migration substantially, projecting a decrease of approximately 300,000 people (about half the population of Wyoming) over the next year.
Following this announcement, more details were released on December 21, 2023, including a factsheet and a document outlining the anticipated immigration impacts. Notably, these updates emphasised transitional provisions to mitigate the effects on skilled workers who are already part of the route before the immigration rules undergo changes in April 2024. Additionally, a more detailed policy statement is anticipated.
Key changes to the skilled worker route set to be implemented in 2024 include:
- The skilled worker’s general salary threshold has been increased from £26,200 to £38,700. This change, however, exempts applicants for the health and care visa and education workers on national pay scales.
- Adjustment of the skilled worker occupation-related going rates of pay from the 25th to the 50th percentile of the salary band for the role.
- Elimination of the 20% salary discounts for roles on the skilled worker shortage occupation list.
- The introduction of a new immigration salary list, replacing the skilled worker shortage occupation list, offers a discounted general salary threshold.
- Requirement for care homes sponsoring new care workers to be registered with the Care Quality Commission.
- Restriction on carers and senior care workers from bringing dependants if they enter the route post-implementation.
The raised general salary threshold means that only higher-ranking members in various medium-skilled occupations will remain eligible. This includes levels 3 to 5 of the Regulated Qualifications Framework. The realignment of occupation-based going rates with the median salary level will further limit eligibility.
The impact is also expected to be felt in sectors like construction, retail, hospitality, food production, and food processing. Unless these sectors are included in the new immigration salary list, utilising the immigration system for overseas workers in these fields might not be cost-effective for UK employers.
Considering these impending changes, sponsors are advised to take proactive measures, such as reviewing their sponsorship pipeline, considering early sponsorship of international students and graduates, and analysing median salaries in relevant occupations to gauge future eligibility. Additionally, sponsors should stay informed about new rules regarding new entrants, specifically in relation to the graduate route and transitional arrangements for existing sponsored workers.
For an in-depth analysis, see our article here.
Immigration Health Surcharge increase
The 66% increase in the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) that the Government announced in July of last year will be implemented on 6th February 2024. The Immigration (Health Charge) (Amendment) Order 2024 was approved by Parliament on 16th January 2024 and was published in the early hours of 18 January 2024.
Under the new immigration rules, the IHS will rise from £624 to £1,035 per year for adults, impacting various immigration routes, including the skilled worker route, health and care visa, and the youth mobility scheme.
For students, Student dependant, Youth Mobility scheme and applications made by children under 18 on the date of application the fees will jump from £470 to £776.
The new fees will represent a significant increase in the overall cost of securing a UK visa. The fee must be paid for each year of your stay and also applies to any accompanying dependants. The overall cost will, therefore, vary depending on the length of your visa and how many dependants (if any) are included in your application.
The IHS is a fee that most migrants coming to the UK must pay to access free healthcare on the NHS for the duration of their stay.
Whether you need to pay the IHS depends on the type of immigration permission you are applying for. You will usually need to pay the surcharge if you’re applying for a visa or immigration application
- For more than 6 months, if you’re applying outside the UK
- for any length of time if you’re applying inside the UK.
You do not need to pay if you’re applying for a visitor visa or to remain in the UK permanently.
This increase is significant for education workers, care workers, and other skilled workers, especially those applying for the skilled worker visa. The surge also affects EU citizens and overseas care workers, aligning with the new immigration salary list and general salary threshold adjustments.
In light of these developments, Centuro Global offers support in navigating the new landscape of UK immigration law, including assistance with the skilled worker route, understanding the minimum salary threshold, and dealing with the changes in rules for recruiting workers, especially in the healthcare and education sectors. Contact us for expert guidance on navigating these transitions, including advice on the new immigration rules and support with filing a UK visa application.
Evolution of the “Visitor visa” status
In light of the ongoing digitalisation of the UK immigration system, the Home Office is set to phase out biometric residence permits and other physical immigration documents by the end of 2024. From 1 January 2025, physical Biometric Residence Permits will no longer be required, reflecting a move towards a more streamlined, online system. Visa holders will be able to prove their immigration status to employers, landlords, and others by registering a UKVI account to access the eVisa version of their existing permission using the Home Office’s View and Prove service. This shift in service aligns with the new immigration rules and the broader digital strategy of the UK government.
Employers are advised to prepare for this transition by utilising the current online process for repeat right-to-work checks, especially for individuals on limited immigration permission, such as those on the skilled worker route or the health and care visa. This approach could mitigate potential disruptions.
We predicted a move towards digitalisation in the coming years. Read our take here.
Electronic travel authorisation (ETA)
The introduction of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) marks another significant change. This pre-check system, mandatory for several nationalities, is part of the broader transformation of the UK’s immigration system.
The ETA, already in effect for Qatar nationals on 15 November 2023, will expand to include and allow nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to apply from 1 February 2024 if they are travelling to the UK on or after 22 February 2024. This system, which requires an online application, biometric details and a payment of £10, should be fully rolled out to all non-visa nationals by the end of 2024.
Processing can take three working days or longer on occasion. An ETA allows multiple entries and lasts for two years or until the expiry of the holder’s passport if this expires sooner.
British or Irish passport holders, residents of Ireland entering from within the Common Travel Area, and individuals already holding a visa or other UK immigration permission are not required to obtain an ETA.
As these changes unfold, further details are expected to be released. This will provide clarity for UK citizens, EU and non-EU citizens, and international students, as well as for UK employers looking to recruit workers under the new system.
Learn how to apply for UK Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) for GCC nationals and Jordanian citizens here.
Changes to family-related immigration routes
The UK government has announced a drastic rise in the salary threshold for British and settled individuals looking to sponsor family members. Initially, the minimum income requirement for sponsoring a partner under the five-year settlement route was £18,600, but this is set to increase to £29,000 in Spring 2024. The additional income requirement for accompanying children will be scrapped.
The incremental minimum income requirement rises to £34,500, and then £38,700 is planned for early 2025; however, there is currently no specific information on when these are due to occur. Whether they will occur at all may not be known until after the result of the next general election.
The Home Office has confirmed that individuals who already have permission on the five-year partner route or who apply as a fiancé(e) or partner before the income threshold is raised will have their applications for extension or settlement assessed against the current income requirements.
For students on postgraduate courses starting from 1 January 2024 (and subject to exceptions for government-sponsored Students and children born in the UK), dependants will only be allowed if the Student is on a PhD or other doctoral course or is a post-graduate course confirmed by the sponsor as being a research-based higher degree.
These net migration reduction measures geared towards restricting family-related immigration routes have the potential to reduce the talent pool for employers who otherwise would be able to recruit dependants of student visa holders.
The UK government, in its ongoing efforts to refine the immigration system, has introduced several significant changes to UK immigration law in 2024, particularly impacting skilled workers, education workers, and various immigration routes.
Shortage Occupation List (SOL)
The government intends to replace the existing Shortage Occupation List (SOL) with a new Immigration Salary List. The Immigration Salary List will remove the 20% discount to the minimum salary for shortage occupation roles, although it is understood that a general salary threshold discount will be retained.
This change, coupled with a review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), indicates potential disruption in sectors such as technology, engineering and construction. Employers should anticipate a reduction in the number of occupations on the list, potentially impacting recruitment strategies in specific industries.
Visitor and Youth Mobility Scheme
The government has expanded activities permitted for visitors. Notably, business travellers on intra-company transfers can now engage more freely in consulting activities directly with clients. Additionally, the Youth Mobility Scheme has been expanded, with countries like Andorra and Uruguay joining, allowing more young adults to experience life in the UK and potentially enter the workforce. Australian and Canadian nationals can now stay up to three years, reflecting the UK’s approach to fostering international cultural exchange and addressing skill shortages.
Graduate Route and International Students
The Graduate Route, introduced in 2021, has been a subject of review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), with a focus on ensuring it aligns with the national interest and minimizes abuse. This route is crucial for international students, including EU citizens, who wish to gain work experience in the UK post-education. The flexibility of the Graduate Visa allows these students to work in skilled occupations without being tied to a specific employer, unlike the Skilled Worker Visa.
Businesses relying on international talent will need to monitor these developments closely, considering their implications for future recruitment strategies.
Implications for Employers and Visa Applicants
Employers in the UK must be particularly attentive to these changes. Misunderstanding the new rules, especially regarding the recruitment of foreign workers or dealing with illegal work, can lead to severe sanctions. It’s crucial for UK employers to be familiar with the new general salary threshold, the rules around sponsoring workers, and the specific conditions under different work visas like the Creative Worker and Intra Company Transfer visas.
For visa applicants, it’s essential to stay informed about the evolving immigration routes, including the minimum income requirements, the process to bring dependants, and the conditions for entry clearance. With the current rules, especially those pertaining to skilled occupations and the Skilled Worker Route, adapting to the changes is vital for successful immigration to the UK.
For further details on these reforms and their implications, employers and potential migrants are advised to consult the latest government publications and seek legal advice where necessary.
This shift in the UK immigration law for 2024 presents both challenges and opportunities for UK employers, skilled workers, and potential migrants. It underscores the need for careful planning and awareness of the evolving legal framework governing migration to the UK.
At Centuro Global, with our specialist immigration team, we can act quickly on your behalf and apply our experience to help you with all areas of Immigration in the UK, Europe and beyond. If you have a query or seek advice, please contact us now.