On 17 July 2023, the Government published a new statement of changes to the immigration rules. The statement includes notable changes affecting the EU Settlement Scheme, the shortage occupation list and students.

EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS)

Under the EUSS's initial rules, anyone granted pre-settled status under the scheme is allowed to stay in the UK for five years before needing to re-apply for pre-settled status or upgrade to settled status before their current status expired. However, if a person failed to make a subsequent application for leave prior to expiry of their pre-settled status, they would automatically lose their right to work, study and rent a property in the UK, and to access benefits and services. They would also be liable to removal from the UK on the basis that they would no longer be classed as lawfully present.

However, in a recent High Court ruling, the position has significantly changed as the Court found the above to be unlawful and that citizens with pre-settled status under the EUSS will no longer be required to make a second application under the scheme or face losing their rights.

As a result of this, the Government's statement of changes provides that holders of pre-settled status will automatically have their pre-settled status extended by two years, if they have not obtained settled status by the time their pre-settled status was initially due to expire. This change is due to take effect from September 2023.

Individuals will be informed of the extension directly and their digital status will be updated, meaning they will be able to prove their right to work status to an employer online.

Although this is not yet provided for in the Immigration Rules, the Home Office has confirmed that it will begin to upgrade holders of pre-settled status to full settled status automatically after five years of continuous residence in the UK, if it can determine (from the records available to it) that the eligibility requirements have been met.

Updates to the Shortage Occupation List

The shortage occupation list for Skilled Workers, which sets out those roles which the Government considers are particularly difficult to recruit into from the UK resident labour market, has been expanded to include certain jobs in the construction and fishing industries. All jobs in the following occupations are to be added to the list on 7 August 2023:

  • Bricklayers and masons
  • Roofers, roof tilers and slaters
  • Carpenters and joiners
  • Construction and building trades not elsewhere classified
  • Agriculture and fishing trades not elsewhere classified
  • Fishing and other elementary agriculture occupations not elsewhere classified.

There are a number of advantages to a role being on the shortage occupation list, including lower visa application fees and salary requirements. This is designed to make it easier and cheaper for employers to access migrant labour to fill vacancies in short supply.

Employers looking to benefit from this will still need to have a sponsor licence in place before they can sponsor Skilled Worker visa applicants. The Home Office application process for a sponsor licence can often be time-consuming so we advise planning ahead; standard processing can take up to eight weeks to receive a decision.

International students

International students will no longer have the right to bring dependants to the UK, unless they are on postgraduate courses designated as research programmes. The definition of "research-based higher degree" has been added to the Immigration Rules, and includes "a postgraduate programme comprising a research component (including a requirement to produce original work) that is larger than any accompanying taught component when measured by student effort".

These changes have been incorporated into the Immigration Rules from 17 July 2023, but will only affect the dependants of students whose courses start on or after 1 January 2024. There will be no impact on students who are making applications for courses starting in autumn 2023.

International students will also no longer be able to switch out of the student route into work routes and start work before their studies have been completed. Students on degree level courses or above will be able to apply before course completion to switch to sponsored work routes, provided their employment start date is not before their course completion. Those studying towards PhDs will be able to switch after 24 months', rather than 12 months', study.

Our immigration specialists keep up to date with all of the latest immigration rule changes, and are available to assist you and ensure your business effectively manages its sponsored workforce.

This article is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice.