Substantial changes to the UK’s immigration system were announced in early December 2023. The measures, which are due to be implemented in Spring 2024, are designed to curb UK immigration, and are more radical than anticipated, posing potentially significant challenges for businesses who sponsor and rely upon migrant workers.
What is changing and when?
The precise details of the new rules will be set out in a Statement of Changes which will be published in the New Year.
Whilst the published ‘headlines’ leave many issues unresolved (including transition arrangements for those individuals already in the UK before the rules change), the Government has confirmed that the minimum salary general threshold for skilled worker visa applicants will increase from £26,200 to £38,700 (save for certain exemptions, including health and care workers). This is a huge, unprecedented increase that is likely to create difficulties for many businesses, particularly those located outside London.
In addition, the salary discount for shortage occupation roles will be scrapped and the healthcare surcharge is set to rise to £1,035 per year (from £624 per year). For businesses who currently cover this cost, the increase is meaningful, particularly for individuals who are granted entry clearance and leave to remain for five years.
Immediate actions for businesses
While we await the Statement of Changes, businesses should prioritise reviewing their short to medium term recruitment plans. If there are any vacant roles which attract a salary below £38,700 then it would be wise to accelerate recruitment to ensure that any necessary visa applications are finalised before Spring 2024.
It would also be wise to review the status of all non-resident but currently non-sponsored employees (such as individuals with Graduate or Dependent visas) and assess whether any such individuals are likely to require sponsorship in the foreseeable future (for example, because they can’t extend their current visa). Even if sponsorship is not necessary imminently, it may be prudent to switch them to skilled worker visas sooner rather than later (assuming all of the other eligibility criteria applicable to skilled worker applications, including genuineness, are met).