Looking forward - what to expect in 2024 for immigration

Part 2

What matters

What matters next

In this two-part series, we look back at the various changes to immigration routes which took place in 2023 and what to expect in 2024.

As we move into 2024, immigration continues to be a hot topic. As detailed in our immigration changes 2023 roundup, the government have already implemented numerous changes aiming to reduce net migration in the UK. Their announcements follow the release of net migration figures by the ONS in May and November 2023 which show that net migration is increasing and have attracted huge media attention. Towards the end of the year, they announced a large number of changes to take effect in 2024. Those changes to be aware of are summarised below: 

Increase to immigration health surcharge 

Visa application fees increased in October 2023. Application fees generally increased somewhere between 15-35% depending on the application category, which is higher than the usual annual increases to be expected. Up to date Home Office fees can be found here.

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

It was initially anticipated that the increase would come into force as early as 16 January 2024, however this was delayed due to the required parliamentary process. Both houses of Parliament have now approved the order and it has been officially made on 16 January 2024, meaning the increase will come into force 21 days later. We therefore expect the increase to come into force from 6 February 2024.

Increases to civil penalties for illegal working or renting 

In 2023, we reported on the government’s announcement that civil penalties for landlords and employers who allow illegal working and renting were set to triple as part of a policy to reduce the number of people living and working in the UK, without legal immigration status.

Fines for employers who employ illegal workers are set to triple from £15,000 to £45,000 for a first offence and from £20,000 to £60,000 per breach for repeat offenders.

Increased penalties were set to commence in early 2024 as a result of changes to legislation in Autumn 2023. The latest update from the Home Office in November 2023 confirmed that the proposed uplifts, which are subject to a specific procedure for introducing secondary legislation, would take effect in January 2024. 

There is currently no further update as to a confirmed date for the increase, although we expect to be given at least 21 days’ notice and will update further when we know more. 

5-point plan to reduce net migration figures 

On 4 December 2023, the government laid out a 5-point agenda to tackle net migration figures in 2024. 

We summarised and provided insight on the planned changes announced at the time.  

Since then, the Home Office have published further details of the changes to come into force. 

1. Salary threshold for Skilled Worker sponsorship increasing to £38,700 

This increase to minimum salary threshold is set to be introduced from April 2024. 

The government have now confirmed that individuals already in the Skilled Worker route before the rule change should be exempt from the new thresholds when they extend their visas, change sponsor or settle in the UK.

We know that certain professions such as roles in the health and care sector or those that are on national pay scales, such as teachers, will be exempt from the increase. It is not yet confirmed whether minimum salary thresholds for these occupations will remain the same as current rates, or whether they will also increase at a lower rate. 

2. Salary discount for shortage occupation list roles to be removed

The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) will be renamed the Immigration Salary List. The Migration Advisory Committee will advise on which job roles should remain on the list to benefit from lower salary thresholds, although the level of the salary discount to be offered to roles on this list is currently unknown. The new list is expected from ‘late Spring’. 

3. Health and care sponsors must now be registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC)

The latest information clarifies that care providers who were sponsoring workers in exclusively non-regulated activities (and therefore not required to be registered with the CQC) before the rules change should be able to continue to sponsor these workers without CQC registration, but they cannot sponsor anyone new in these circumstances. 

After the rules change, any care providers in England must be regulated by the CQC if they wish to sponsor workers undertaking any activity. It remains unclear whether care providers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will need to be regulated by their equivalent bodies to do the same. 

4. Removal of ability for health and care workers to bring family members

The government indicate that these changes to the rules for carers and senior carers will be introduced as soon as possible in the new year. 

They have confirmed that carers already in the UK on this visa route will be able to remain with their dependants, including when they extend their visas, changing employer or settle in the UK. 

Those already in the UK on this route who have not yet brought dependants, will also continue to be allowed to do so. 

Individuals in the UK who switch into this route after changes to the rules will be unable to sponsor dependants. Despite the transitional provisions confirmed, these changes are likely to make the UK a much less attractive destination for health and care workers who would only consider taking up a role in the UK if they were able to bring their family.

5. Increase to minimum income requirement for British citizens and settled persons to sponsor a partner from overseas

The government has confirmed that those already in the UK on this route, or those who apply before the minimum income threshold is increased, can continue to meet the current income requirement. 

The same applies to those who are granted a fianc(é)e visa before the threshold is raised; they can continue to meet the smaller income requirement once they apply to extend their visa as a married partner. 

Anyone coming to the UK, or applying to switch into this immigration category, after the minimum income requirement has been increased, will be subject to the new income requirement. The minimum income requirement will increase to £29,000 in ‘Spring 2024.’ It will then be increased to around £34,500 and this increase is expected to be later in the year. Ultimately, the minimum income threshold will be set at £38,700 in early 2025. It is not clear whether the level of savings required for a British or settled person to sponsor a partner will be increased or whether this will remain at £62,500.  

6. Review of the graduate route 

The Graduate route, introduced in 2021, is now being reviewed by the Migration Advisory Committee to prevent abuse, protect the integrity and quality of UK higher education and ensure it works in the best interests of the UK. 

The review is taking place in January 2024. It’s unlikely that this will result in any immediate changes to the route and if changes are made, it may take some time for these to be confirmed and introduced.

In relation to all of the above planned changes, the Home Office have confirmed that current policies remain in place until the Immigration Rules are amended. We expect there will be a further statement or confirmation in advance of any changes taking place, which will confirm the exact date that such changes come into force. 

Changes to the visitor rules 

Various changes to the immigration rules confirming permitted activities for business visitors are set to take effect on 31 January 2024. 

The changes were widely anticipated since the Home Office invited feedback from immigration law practitioners as part of a consultation process regarding planned reforms to the route in June 2023. It was hoped that the changes would improve the situation for business visitors coming to the UK by expanding the activities they are permitted to do here, however the confirmed changes, which we review in detail here, unfortunately fall short of expectations. 

The most useful is the expansion of the permitted intra-corporate activities, in which the prohibition on working directly with clients is being removed. This might be a welcome change for some businesses who wish for employees to visit the UK for short periods to undertake specified permitted activities which involve client facing work. However, this expanded rule still comes with a caveat that client facing activity must be incidental to the visitor’s employment abroad and must be part of a service being delivered by the UK organisation. i.e. it cannot be a project or service that is being delivered directly to the UK client by the visitor’s employer overseas.

Expansion of Youth Mobility Scheme 

The Youth Mobility Scheme is being expanded in 2024. 

From 31 January 2024, the age limit for nationals of Australia, Canada and South Korea applying to come to the UK under this scheme will increase from 30 to 35 years, in line with nationals of New Zealand. 

The maximum length of time that nationals of Australia and Canada can stay in the UK will be extended to 3 years from 2 years, again in line with the current policy for New Zealand nationals. 

Uruguay is being added to the list of countries and will be given a total allocation of 500 places under the scheme. The number of allocated places for nationals of Japan and South Korea to apply under the route will also increase to 6,000 (from 1,500) and 5,000 (from 1,000) respectively. 

Digitisation of the immigration system

The government is developing a digital immigration system, which they intend to implement by the end of 2024. From 1 January 2025, the Home Office will no longer issue physical documents as confirmation of an individual’s immigration status in the UK. The intention is that status holders will only be able to view and prove their status through their UKVI digital account from this date.

The Home Office have started to implement this system already in the last few years, issuing e-visas for some individuals in certain immigration categories. Similarly, any Biometric Residence Permits issued by the Home Office in recent years will confirm an expiry date of 31 December 2024, even where the individual’s status remains valid beyond that date. The expectation is that the Home Office will require those who hold such documents to create a digital UKVI account before the end of 2024 so that they can continue to prove their status from 2025 onwards once the physical documents expire. 

At present, we have only a very small amount of information regarding the roll out of the digital system and we await updates from the government this year regarding confirmed timescales. We will provide updates on this on our website as and when received. 

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.

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