In December 2023, the Home Secretary announced the government's five-point plan to cut net migration by 300,000 people each year. 

Over the last few months, we have seen a whole host of changes to immigration law to reflect the five-point plan and a number of significant developments have been rolled out. This article summarises the key changes and what's in the pipeline for the rest of the year (subject to, of course, the outcome of the General Election in July).

Skilled Worker changes

For most new Skilled Worker visas, the general salary threshold has increased from £26,200 to £38,700 per year (where no salary discount or transitional arrangement applies). 

The going rate for particular occupations has also increased, and is now set at the 50th percentile (i.e. the median) of salaries in that occupation. This means a significant increase for many occupation codes – for example, the annual going rate for an architect has increased from £26,320 to £45,900 and the annual going rate for a financial manager/director has increased from £42,800 to £70,000. 

Workers already on the Skilled Worker route or those who were assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) before 4 April 2024 continue to benefit from the transitional arrangements provided they have continuous permission under the Skilled Worker route when seeking to extend, change employer or settle before 4 April 2030.

Immigration Salary List

The Immigration Salary List replaced the Shortage Occupation List on 4 April 2024. Previously, if a job was on the Shortage Occupation List (which contained around 54 roles), an individual could be paid 80% of the job’s usual going rate to qualify for a Skilled Worker visa. This discount no longer applies and the list has been reduced to 23 jobs and excludes a number of sectors, such as Engineering, IT and Architecture. 

However, occupations that are eligible for a Skilled Worker visa and fall under the Immigration Salary List will still qualify for a 20% discount on the general salary threshold, meaning that the general salary threshold will be reduced to £30,960 for those roles.

Update to SOC codes

On 4 April, the SOC code system (which is used to classify skilled occupations) was updated from SOC 2010 codes to the newer SOC 2020 codes. This has resulted in a number of the codes being renumbered. In addition, some roles such as nannies and massage therapists, are no longer eligible for sponsorship and have been removed from the list.

Due to the change in SOC codes, sponsors will need to be careful when applying for and assigning CoS as the correct code will need to be used. If an old code is used for example, it will likely result in the visa application being refused.

To help employers choose the correct SOC code, there is a new CASCOT occupation coding tool that can be used.

Supplementary employment

The rules in place prior to 4 April allowed Skilled Worker visa holders to work in a supplementary job for up to 20 hours per week, provided the supplementary job was either in the same SOC code as the job they were sponsored to do or it came under the Shortage Occupation List.

Post 4 April, Skilled Workers are now permitted to undertake supplementary employment for up to 20 hours per week in any eligible SOC 2020 occupation code, provided this is outside the working hours of their sponsored job. 

Dependant restrictions

From 11 March 2024, new care workers and senior care workers can no longer bring dependants to the UK. This change does not apply retrospectively, so care workers already in the UK under a Health and Care visa can continue to bring dependants to the UK. Care providers will only be able to sponsor overseas workers if they are undertaking activities regulated by the Care Quality Commission. 

From 1 January 2024, international students are now restricted from bringing dependants to the UK. Only those studying a PhD, doctorate or a research-based higher degree can bring dependants to the UK. This change does not apply to those already in the UK on a Student visa before 1 January.

Family visas

On 11 April 2024, the financial requirements under the Spouse / Partner route increased - the minimum income level is now £29,000, instead of £18,600. 

These figures are set to increase over the course of 2024 and are due to reach £38,700 by the start of next year. 

Graduate visas

In March 2024, a formal request was made to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to conduct a rapid review of the Graduate route. 

On 14 May 2024, the MAC published its review and recommended that the Graduate route should stay in its current form, finding no evidence of widespread abuse.

What's in the pipeline?

A key upcoming change is the roll out of the new Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme, which is a part of the government's wider plan to digitise the UK's immigration system. 

The ETA scheme is open to non-visa holders who do not need a visa for short trips to the UK, and will be rolled out by 2025. It has been mandatory for nationals of Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to have an ETA since 22 February 2024. By the end of 2024, it is intended that this will be extended to all other non-visa nationals, including those visiting from the European Union and the US. 

The Home Office has also confirmed that it is currently developing a digital immigration system and is looking to move away from physical documents. As part of this, from 1 January 2025, the Home Office will no longer issue physical documents as confirmation of an individual’s immigration status in the UK, such as Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs), and the intention is that status holders will only be able to view and prove their status through their UKVI digital account. The Home Office has already started to contact select individuals with BRPs, inviting them to create a UKVI account to access their eVisa. There's also likely to be a requirement for employers to carry out an online right to work check on 31 December 2024 for anyone who used their physical BRP (before April 2022) as proof of their right to work.

Key steps for employers

Employers should:

  • Review their recruitment strategy and plan for increased costs for any new sponsored workers
  • Review the impact on current sponsored workers, including those with time-limited permission
  • Ensure right to work checks are carried out correctly and that the correct processes are in place – we have seen an increase in compliance action and onsite audits from the Home Office.

If you would like to discuss how these new rules apply and how to prepare for them, WBD have a dedicated team of specialist corporate immigration lawyers who can help guide you.

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