On Monday 4th December 2023 the UK Home Secretary announced his ‘five-point plan’ to cut net migration from Spring 2024. His proposed plan, it is estimated, will see a fall in net migration of 300,000 people per year.
The government announced these changes as part of a policy to prioritise growing the domestic workforce. There are significant changes for sponsor employers to note, although we await the finer details of these changes in due course. On 7 December, a statement of changes to the UK’s immigration rules was also published, which we have commented on below.
The key changes announced include:
|Reforms to the Health and Care visa
- Care homes will have to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission; and
- Care workers under the Health and Care Worker visa will no longer be able to bring dependants to the UK.
- Both these changes will come into force on 11 March 2024.
- The first change is aimed at ensuring only legitimate care home businesses are sponsoring care workers. This is likely a result of the increased evidence of abuse of the sponsorship regime within this sector. We now understand care providers sponsoring workers in exclusively non-regulated activities before the rule changes should be able to continue to sponsor these workers, including for extensions, but they will not be able to hire new sponsored workers.
- The second change could deter such workers from coming to the UK if they cannot bring their dependants, which will be a real concern for the sector which already struggles to recruit. In the year ending September 2023, 101,000 Health and Care Worker visas were issued to care workers and senior care workers, with an estimated 120,000 visas granted to associated dependants. However, those care workers and senior care workers already in the route will be able to remain with their dependants, including extending, changing employer (within the same SOC code) and settlement. Similarly, those already in the route, but who have not yet brought dependants, will be allowed to bring dependants during their sponsorship.
|Increased general salary threshold for Skilled Worker visas
- This will likely have a large impact on those looking to sponsor within the hospitality, retail and construction sectors for example.
- The Government has since confirmed this change won’t apply to those already on skilled worker visas looking to change sponsor, extend or settle. However, their pay will be expected to progress at the same rate as resident workers and so they will be subject to the updated 25th percentiles using the latest pay data when they come to change employment, extend or settle.
- We wait to see the details of this change to assess any knock-on impact it may have on other groups, such as those at the graduate level. This does focus the system on more highly skilled and highly paid roles, regardless of whether those roles are always in short supply in the UK market. It is likely this change will exacerbate talent shortages already in place for those sectors struggling post-Brexit.
|Stopping the ‘going rate’ salary discount for occupations on the Shortage Occupation List (“SOL”)
- This wasn’t a wholly surprising change, given that it had previously been recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee (“MAC”) in October of this year.
- The government will end the 20% ‘going-rate’ salary discount for those sponsored in a role on the SOL. The laying of the new Immigration Rules on 14 March will include the removal of the 20% going rate discount for occupations on the SOL, which will be abolished in favour of a new Immigration Salary List from early April.
- The Government has asked the MAC to provide the new Immigration Salary List, with fewer occupations than the current SOL. This list will retain a general threshold discount. This seems less extreme than the MAC’s overall recommendation in its last review to abolish the SOL altogether but we wait to see the full details. We understand the current SOL will remain until the new salary thresholds are put in place in April.
- With the expectation that the SOL will shrink in its new guise as an Immigration Salary List, fewer employers and applicants will benefit from the cost savings associated with SOL skilled worker visa applications. We wait to see whether the final list reflects the recommendations previously put forward by the MAC. However, our expectation is that those roles with a ‘going rate’ above the discounted general threshold (currently £20,960 but potentially set to increase given the general threshold increase announced) will fall off the list.
- Will be particularly felt in certain sectors, where the ‘going rate’ for roles is higher than the discounted general threshold (currently £20,960). If such roles remain on the SOL, the salary requirements will increase. If such roles are removed from the SOL altogether, unless other tradeable points are available, the role will have to be paid at least £38,700 per annum or, if higher, the ‘going rate’ for the role.
|Graduate visa review
- The MAC will be asked to review the Graduate visa route to ensure it works in the best interests of the UK and to ensure steps are being taken to prevent abuse.
- One to watch. This review is expected to take until late 2024. This visa is widely used by graduates as a stepping stone before a skilled worker visa. Some employers will rely on this to provide time to secure a sponsor licence or for the individual to progress to a salary level whereby they will qualify for a skilled worker visa.
|Increased minimum income requirement for family applications
- UK nationals seeking to sponsor foreign national dependents under Appendix FM will be required to earn a minimum of £38,700 per year an increase of over 100% from the current figure of £18,600.
- This unexpected announcement will likely significantly impact those that can qualify under this visa option.
Subsequent government commentary has since confirmed the threshold will initially be raised to £29,000 from 11 April 2024. It will further increase to £34,500, on an unspecified date, eventually increasing to £38,700 in early 2025.
It is understood these changes won’t apply to those already on a family visa in the five-year partner route looking to renew that or those who apply before the changes take effect.
We wait to see the exact detail and timing of these proposed changes, as well as the impact they will have on renewal applications for those already in the UK to the extent not already confirmed.
This plan builds on the tough measures already taken by the Home Office including:
• measures to prevent misuse of the student route;
• increasing visa application fees; and
• the upcoming increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge (set to rise from £624 to £1,035 per year of visa sought for most migrants). This increase is set to come into effect from 6 February 2024.
This announcement is likely to raise concerns in terms of the wider impact for businesses in the UK. Such changes could detrimentally impact the UK’s long-term growth prospects as well as exacerbate existing labour shortages in certain sectors post- Brexit and the pandemic.
It will be interesting to see the impact all the above has on the UK’s ability to attract top talent in an extremely competitive marketplace.
Employers will have minimal time to adapt their current business models before the changes come into effect. However, employers with sponsorships on the horizon may wish to get any applications submitted before these changes are introduced to avoid being caught by them.
7 December 2023 statement of changes to the Immigration Rules
The key changes for employers to note are below (all effective from 31 January 2024):
1. Visitor activities:
a. The visitor rules currently permit overseas group staff to visit the UK and work on an internal project with their UK group colleagues, provided they do not work directly with clients. That prohibition on working directly with clients is being removed, provided:
i. the visitor’s movement is in an intra-corporate setting and any client facing activity is incidental to their overseas employment; and
ii. the visitor’s activities are required for delivering a project or service by the UK branch of the visitor’s overseas employer and are not part of a project or service being delivered directly to the UK client by the visitor’s overseas employer.
This change essentially seeks to prevent offshoring a project or service to the overseas employer. It does not provide a solution for overseas employers without a UK presence sending staff on a short-term basis to carry out work for a UK client unless it is otherwise covered by the visitor rules (e.g. the specific rules on the manufacture and supply of goods to the UK).
b. It is made clear that visitors may work remotely whilst in the UK but that cannot be the primary purpose of their visit. This is in keeping with the prior guidance in place on remote working.
2. Youth Mobility Scheme:
a. Uruguay is being added to those countries participating in the youth mobility scheme.
b. The age limit is being increased from 18 – 30 to 18 – 35 for nationals of the Republic of Korea. This was already being extended to 35 years for Australian and Canadian nationals from 31 January (as is already the case for New Zealand nationals). It was also already the case that from 31 January 2024 nationals of Australia or Canada will be able to extend their visa in this route by one year (to a maximum of 3 years), as New Zealand nationals already can.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at December 2023. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.