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UK Immigration Update 2024: What employers and visa applicants need to know

Friday March 15, 2024

Following a year of notable modifications to UK immigration laws, employers and individuals applying for visas must stay informed of the recent and upcoming changes that could significantly impact them. This post highlights the crucial alterations introduced in 2024 and considers their implications.

Revised Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)

One of the biggest changes came into effect on the 6th of February 2024, with the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) rising sharply by approximately 66%. The new rate climbed from £624 to £1,035 per annum, and for students and children, from £470 to £776. New applications submitted after this date where IHS applies have been impacted, prompting potential visa applicants to factor in these increased costs in their financial planning.

Escalated Civil Penalties for Illegal Employment

Another major shift, effective as of 13th of February 2024, saw civil penalties for employing illegal workers soar to £45,000 for initial breaches, and to £60,000 for subsequent offences. Recent reports indicate an uptick in Home Office compliance visits and immigration enforcement, stressing the importance for employers to maintain stringent right-to-work checking procedures to fend off potential fines and legal challenges.

Skilled Worker Visa Salary Threshold Uplift

On the 4th of April 2024, the salary requirement for Skilled Worker visas saw a 48% rise, climbing from £26,200 to £38,700. This uptick did not influence health and care workers or those already under the Skilled Worker route seeking to change employment, prolong their stay, or apply for settlement. Only new applications made on or beyond the effective date are subject to this new salary threshold. Employers have had to quickly adapt and adjust their recruitment and budget strategies to align with these amendments.

Elimination of the Shortage Occupation List

April 2024 marked the transition from the Shortage Occupation List to a new ‘Immigration Salary List’, alongside the elimination of the 20% going rate discount. Various sectors, particularly with labour shortages, faced significant ramifications. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) was tasked to present a report by 23rd of February 2024, delineating which roles should be incorporated initially.

Restriction on Care Worker Dependants

Effective from the 11th of March 2024, overseas care workers faced new regulations prohibiting them from bringing dependants into the UK. Additionally, England’s care providers wishing to sponsor employees via this visa pathway were required to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission, adding another level of compliance necessary for employment in the sector.

Examination of the Graduate Route

Implemented in 2021, the Graduate visas underwent a review by MAC. While specifics regarding potential reforms remained uncertain, the review followed hot on the heels of alterations to student visas, which, starting from 1st of January 2024, restricted students from bringing dependants into the country.

Surge in Family Visa Earnings Threshold

The minimum income threshold for applicants wishing to bring partners to the UK escalated substantially, from £18,600 to £29,000, as of 11th of April 2024, and is planned to further rise to £38,700 by early 2025. This placed a heavier financial burden on British and settled residents aiming to unite with partners from abroad.

Additional Updates Affecting Visas and Employers:

Changes to Business Visitor Rules:

Significant modifications to the Visitor visa route were introduced as of 31 January 2024. These alterations included:

  • Removal of restrictions on intra-corporate activities with clients, provided they do not involve project offshoring.
  • Permission for visitors to work remotely while in the UK.
  • Allowance for scientists, researchers, and academics to conduct research in the country.
  • Expansion of permitted activities for visiting legal professionals.
  • Speakers at conferences being allowed remuneration.

Furthermore, the Permitted Paid Engagements (PPE) Visitor route was included within the Standard Visitor route, broadening the range of activities visitors can engage in without a specialised visa.

The digitalisation of the UK Immigration System:

The Home Office is shifting towards a digital immigration system, with plans to discontinue issuance of physical documents confirming immigration status in the UK, such as Biometric Residence Permits, as of the 1st of January 2025. Right to work checks are expected to go completely online by the 31st of December 2024, suggesting that those with physical BRPs should be proactive in setting up their UKVI digital account.

Removal of Sponsor Licence Renewal Requirement:

Starting on the 6th of April 2024, sponsors no longer need to renew their sponsor licence every four years, thus reducing administrative tasks. Despite this change reducing paperwork, sponsors must remain diligent in adhering to their obligations and guaranteeing compliance to prevent sanctions during potential unannounced Home Office visits.

These sweeping reforms and expansions illuminate the dynamic landscape of UK immigration law. It’s vital for employers and visa applicants to consider how these changes could influence their plans and to prepare accordingly. Staying updated on immigration developments and adjusting compliance strategies promptly ensures successful navigation through these transitions.

If you have any questions about your Visa application or business sponsorship, contact the Immigration Solicitors at CWC today.

Explore the significant changes to UK immigration laws in 2024 and their impact on employers and visa applicants. Stay informed with our latest insights.