A summary of recent changes to the immigration rules for employers

A summary of recent changes to the immigration rules for employers

Since the start of 2024, there have been a significant number of changes to the Immigration Rules which affect employers and businesses who employ foreign nationals in the UK. In this article, we cover a brief summary of the key changes.

Increases to skilled worker salaries

Effective 4 April 2024, employers sponsoring Skilled Workers are affected by significant salary increases, including:

  • The minimum salary threshold to qualify for a Skilled Worker visa has increased from £26,200 pa to £38,700 pa.
  • The minimum 'new entrant rate' has also increased from £20,400 pa to £30,960 pa, which would apply to any sponsor looking to employ a new graduate.
  • Salary requirements for individual occupations (the going rate') have also increased, bringing them in line with the median pay for resident workers in those occupations.
  • Those sponsored for Health and Care Worker visas, or occupations where going rates are set using national pay scales, are exempt from the new median salary increase. The 25th percentile general threshold will continue to apply to these but has been increased to £29,000 pa based on latest ONS pay data. Going rates for individual occupations for these workers are likely to have also increased based on latest ONS pay data.
  • All other existing Skilled Worker salary discounts, relating to holders of relevant PhD qualifications, “new entrants” to the labour market, and national pay scale occupations, are being retained and updated, based on the latest ONS pay data.
  • The Shortage Occupation List ('SOL') has now been replaced by the new 'Immigration Salary List' ('ISL'), which is nowhere near as extensive. This change reflects that the new list is one of occupations where the government considers it sensible to offer a salary threshold discount as opposed to the previous list of occupations with labour shortages.

Occupations on the SOL had a 20% discount applied to the general salary threshold, meaning:

  • £30,960 pa instead of £38700 pa
  • £23,200 pa instead of £29000 pa

With the ISL, no 20% discount applies any longer to the 'going rate' for these roles as there was previously.

The ISL will be further reviewed later this year by the Migration Advisory Committee.

Additionally, the above changes will also apply to Skilled Workers who were already in the routes before the new Rules take effect, eg if they are making applications to extend their stay, change employment or settle before 4 April 2030.

As you would expect, the government’s rationale behind these increases is to encourage businesses and employers to invest in the resident UK workforce and discourage over-reliance on migration, and also to bring the salaries in line with the average full-time salary for eligible occupations. Coupled with applicable fees, employer sponsorship will likely be the more expensive option going forward for employers and businesses.

In light of these increases, other considerations sponsors will need to make are:

  • whether they have sufficient budgets to manage the increases; and
  • if and how they can justify giving pay rises or paying higher salaries to sponsored workers as this may cause inequalities when compared with salaries for resident workers doing the same roles but possibly on a lower salary as a result.

Other visa categories affected by salary increases

In addition to the Skilled Worker salary increases and in line with changes to the latest ONS pay data, additional changes have come into effect for other visa categories  since January 2024, which will affect some employers.

  • For Senior/Specialist Worker visa holders under the Global Business Mobility route, the general salary threshold has increased from £45,800 pa to £48,500 pa to reflect updated pay data. Going rates for individual roles are also being updated.
  • For Graduate Trainees under the Global Business Mobility route, the general salary threshold has increased from £24,220 pa to £25,410 pa to reflect updated pay data. Going rates for specific roles will remain in line with 70% of the 25th percentile but have been increased in line with the latest ONS pay data.
  • For the Scale-up route, the general salary threshold is now £36,300 pa (up from £34,600 pa) and going rates have been updated using the latest ONS pay data.
  • For certain poultry workers in the Seasonal Workers route, the salary requirement has been raised to £38,700 pa and £15.88 per hour as they must be paid in line with Skilled Workers.
  • The Seasonal Workers route has also been updated to incorporate National Minimum wage increases.

And that’s not all…

In addition to the salary increases, a host of additional immigration rule changes have been introduced so far this year.

April 2024

  • Supplementary employment has been expanded to include all occupations under the Skilled Worker route not just those under the SOL/ISL.
  • Under the Creative Worker route, applicants will now need to demonstrate that they are making a unique contribution to creative life in the UK and the exemption from resident labour market considerations has been removed.
  • Appendix Skilled Occupations has been replaced by a new version based on SOC 2020 (previously it was SOC 2010), updating the Standard Occupational Classification code system used for immigration applications. This will mean a change to classification of some roles and additional tables have been added to indicate which code will apply for roles where these are no longer detailed in SOC 2020.
  • The minimum income threshold for those applying for a spouse /partner visa under the Family route has been increased to £29000 pa. This will be steadily increased to £34500 pa and then £38700 pa over the next 12 months.

March 2024

  • New applicants sponsored in the care industry as Care Workers, will no longer be allowed to include their spouses/ partners and children as dependants.
  • Employer sponsors / businesses in the care industry will need to be registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in order to sponsor new workers in the care industry.

February 2024

  • The Immigration Health Surcharge increased to £1035 per year per adult and £776 per year per child/student.

January 2024

  • Civil penalty fines for illegal working were tripled, going up to £45000 for a single offence and £60000 for repeated offences.
  • Visitor visa rules have been expanded to include additional activities for those coming to the UK for a business visit. This affects those undertaking intra-corporate activities, remote working, flight crew, researchers and lawyers. 
  • Uruguay has been allowed to join the Youth Mobility Scheme with a ballot system in place. (January 2024)

If your business is affected by these changes or if you have any questions, please do get in touch.

You may also be interested in our upcoming webinar on Employing overseas nationals in the UK.

About our expert

Fozia Iqbal

Fozia Iqbal

Senior Business Immigration Solicitor
Fozia has been practising in the field of immigration law for over 20 years, specialising in Business Immigration since 2015. Fozia has advised an array of businesses, from start-ups to multinationals, owner-managed businesses through to SMEs, as well as individuals looking for immigration solutions. With a range of experience across the board, it is unusual for her to come across an immigration issue that she cannot tackle. 

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