2024 is set to be a significant year for UK immigration law. In this article, we set out the main immigration changes most likely to be of interest to employers during 2024.

Increase to Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)

The IHS is set to increase substantially, by around 66%. The Surcharge is currently charged at a rate of £624 per year and it is set to increase to £1,035 per year. For children and students, the rate will increase from £470 to £776.

This is due to come into force on 6 February 2024, and will apply to all new applications submitted on or after that date where the Surcharge applies.

Increases to civil penalties for employing illegal workers

From 13 February 2024, civil penalties for employing workers without the right to work will triple to £45,000 for a first breach, and £60,000 for repeat offences. See our recent article here for more details.

It's been recently reported that there has been an increase in compliance visits from the Home Office and with Immigration Enforcement activity in general, which is up 50% on last year and now at its highest level since 2019. This highlights the importance for employers to have robust right to work checking procedures in place and to ensure that they comply with the requirements to prevent illegal working.

Increase to Skilled Worker salary requirements

The salary threshold for Skilled Worker visas is due to rise by 48%, from £26,200 to £38,700. The change will come into force on 4 April 2024. This increase will not apply to health and care workers and crucially, will also not apply to individuals already in the Skilled Worker route when they apply to change employment, extend their stay or apply for settlement. The increase will only apply to "new" applications made on or after 4 April 2024.

The increase in the salary threshold is a significant change and sponsors should factor this into any budgeting and recruitment plans for 2024. Employers that have plans to apply for new Skilled Worker visas in the near future may want to act swiftly to ensure that applications are submitted prior to the salary increase.

Removal of the Shortage Occupation List

In April 2024, the Shortage Occupation List is set to be replaced with a new 'Immigration Salary List', which will include the removal of the 20% going rate discount. This is likely to have a significant impact on various sectors, particularly those that have skill and labour shortages.

The Home Office has requested that the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) conduct a ‘rapid review’ of which occupations should be initially included on the Immigration Salary List. All roles recommended must be skilled and in shortage and the MAC must determine that it is sensible for immigration to be used as part of the solution to the shortage in the short-term. MAC must deliver its report by 23 February 2024.

Care Worker dependants

Overseas care workers will no longer be allowed to bring dependants to the UK. This will come into force on 11 March 2024. In addition, care providers in England that wish to sponsor via this visa route will only be able to do so if they are regulated by the Care Quality Commission.

Review of the Graduate Route

The Graduate route was introduced in 2021 to allow international students to remain in the UK for up to an additional two years after their studies. MAC are to conduct a review of Graduate visas, although it is not clear what reform will follow. This comes after the announcement back in May 2023 that individuals on student visas will no longer be allowed to bring dependants to the UK, which has just come into effect as of 1 January 2024.

Increase to earnings threshold for family visas

The Government has confirmed that there will be an increase to the minimum income requirement for British and settled people looking to bring their partners to the UK. This is set to increase from £18,600 to £29,000 on 11 April 2024 and will gradually increase thereafter to £38,700. The government has indicated that the final increase will be introduced by early 2025.

Changes to Business Visitor Rules

As of 31 January 2024, the following changes to the Visitor visa route have been made:

  • The prohibition on visitors undertaking intra-corporate activities directly with clients has now been removed, provided the client facing activity is incidental to the visitor's employment abroad and does not amount to the offshoring of a project or service to their overseas employer.
  • Visitors are now permitted to work remotely whilst they are in the UK, but remote working must not be the primary purpose of their visit to the UK.
  • Scientists, researchers and academics are permitted to conduct research in the UK as part of their visit.
  • Permitted activities for visiting legal professionals has been expanded to allow overseas lawyers to provide legal services.
  • Speakers at conferences are now permitted to be paid (this will be included in the list of Permitted Paid Engagements (PPE)).
  • The provisions of the PPE Visitor route has been moved into the Standard Visitor route (so all visitors will be able to undertake PPE without the need for a special visa). However, visitors intending to undertake PPE must still have arranged their PPE activity prior to travel to the UK, and this must be undertaken within 30 days of their arrival in the UK as a Visitor.

Digitalisation of the UK immigration system

The Home Office has 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.

The intention is that status holders will only be able to view and prove their status through their UKVI digital account and anyone who holds a BRP will need to register with UKVI to ensure they can prove their right to work in the UK.

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 as proof of their right to work (so before 6 April 2022 when it became mandatory to carry out online checks for BRP holders).

Removal of sponsor licence renewal requirement

From 6 April 2024, the requirement for employers to renew their sponsor licence will be removed. Previously, sponsor licences were issued for 4 years and had to be renewed through the Sponsor Management System.

The removal of sponsor licence renewals certainly means less admin for sponsors. However, the process of sponsor licence renewals typically provided sponsors with an opportunity to review their licences and to identify any compliance issues.

It is vital that all sponsors continue to be aware of their sponsor licence obligations and take steps to ensure that HR systems, practices and policies are robust and compliant in the event of an onsite visit from the Home Office.

If you have a specific immigration query you'd like to discuss, please get in touch with our Immigration specialists at WBD.

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