April Changes to Immigration – What Employers Need to Know

Back To Latest News

Skilled Worker route:

What is changing?

As we know, the government announced plans in 2023 to drastically increase the minimum salary requirements for sponsored work in the UK, effective from Spring 2024.

We now have more detail on the minimum salary levels that must be met for applications from 4 April 2024:

  • The general salary threshold will increase from £26,200 to £38,700 for new CoS issued to applicants who make an application on or after 4 April 2024.
  • Going rates will also be increased to the median from the 25th percentile– for example, the going rate for an ‘IT professional not elsewhere classified’ under current SOC code 2139 is £32,100. From 4 April 2024, the going rate for roles in this code will increase to £44,200.
  • The minimum hourly rate will increase from £10.75 to £15.88.
  • Discounts will be available for the new increased minimum salaries, for example for new entrants or those with a PhD in a subject relevant to the role – but these will be discounts against the new minimum rates, not the existing ones.
  • Complicated transitional arrangements will apply to those already in the route with leave granted in place before 4 April 2024- the general threshold will be going up from £26,200 to £29,000, and the going and hourly rates will also increase (with discounts available as there are now). These transitional arrangements will be in place until 3 April 2030.
  • Scope of supplementary employment in the Skilled Worker route will be expanded to include all occupations eligible for the route. Currently, skilled workers can only do supplemental employment in a role that is in the same occupation and same professional level as their sponsored role (or any role that is on the Shortage Occupation List). From 4 April 2024, supplemental employment can be done in any role that would otherwise be eligible for a skilled worker visa.

However, please note that the increased salary requirements do not apply in the same way to workers sponsored for Health and Care visas, or in occupations where the national pay scales are used (teachers). In these cases, a general threshold based on the 25th percentile continues to apply and the general minimum threshold will increase to £23,200.

The changes aim to encourage businesses to invest in the resident workforce rather than over-relying on migration. However, the salary increases will price overseas workers out of the UK labour market, and will likely lead to labour shortages at least in the short to medium term. It will also seriously impact the ability for people already in the UK to switch into the skilled worker route, meaning that many will be forced to leave the UK, again increasing the labour shortage.

The transitional arrangements for existing skilled workers are complicated. Whereas there are currently 6 tradeable point options under the skilled worker route (allowing sponsors to apply discounts to the minimum salary rates), there will be 11 tradeable point options going forward and sponsors will need to fully understand which tradeable point options may apply if they roles they want to continue to sponsor no longer meet the new minimum salary requirements.

In a further attempt to keep us all on our toes, the SOC codes are also being updated. For example, the current SOC Code 1115 for chief executives will become SOC Code 1111 from 4 April 2024. Sponsors wanting to extend existing sponsorship will need to make sure they pick the right code for extension applications as failure to use the correct code will be viewed as a compliance breach (although we hope the case workers will take a sensible approach to accidental mislabelling). Arrangements will be in place for those in codes that are deleted from 4 April 2024, who want to extend their stay or settle in the UK.

If you employ Senior/Specialist Workers/Graduate Trainees in the Global Business Mobility routes these salary thresholds have been increased, along with the Scale-up route and certain poultry workers. For example Senior, Specialist Workers under the Global Business Mobility route will need to meet a new general minimum salary of £48,500 (compared with the current ££45,800), and the Graduate Trainee sub-route will see an increase on the general minimum salary from £24,220 to £25,410. As the graduate salary will be below the new skilled worker salary, this route may be used more often from 4 April 2024.

What does this mean for employers? 

This is likely to directly impact the public sector, businesses, charities and voluntary organisations who use these routes to sponsor workers. These changes are intended to reduce net migration, and so will reduce applications and Home Office/Immigration Health Surcharge revenue. This will essentially lower the money available for services for these workers, which may be a knock on effect that the Home Office has not anticipated. However, given the equally severe hikes in the level of the Immigration Health Surcharge in February this year, things may just even themselves out in that regard.

For the majority of sponsors, the changes to the skilled worker route will seriously impede their ability to sponsor new employees from 4 April 2024.  The changes also impact existing sponsored employees who may need to extend their permission after 4 April 2024 – while the new minimum salary levels will not apply, neither will the existing minimums. Instead, an increase is being applied to existing minimum salaries to account for ‘inflation’, which may also price employers out of being able to retain existing sponsored staff.

Discounts aside, if someone is currently sponsored and their visa expires after 4 April 2024 or they wish to apply for settlement, the new general minimum salary they will need to meet will be £29,000 (compared with the current £26,200) – essentially an overnight increase of at least £2,800 and that is before the going rate list is also consulted.

The speed at which these changes have been made has limited the ability of such businesses to plan for the changes, which will no doubt lead to concerning long term resource issues for UK businesses.  Businesses are encouraged to do what they can to assign certificates of sponsorship now, before changes take effect.

Immigration Salary List & Asylum:

  • The Shortage Occupation List is now the Immigration Salary List with occupations reduced, the reduction of 20% to going rates has been removed but a 20% discount will still apply to the general minimum salary.
  • Asylum seekers whose applications have been outstanding for 12 months can now only take up a post on the new smaller Immigration Salary List at the time the offer of employment is accepted, rather than the longer shortage occupation list.

When? – This is commencing on 4th April 2024.

What does it mean for employers? – Again sponsors who are familiar with the current list, and take advantage of the reduced salary when recruiting sponsored employees into these roles, will need to make sure they use the new list going forward or they will risk applications being refused for not meeting the new salary requirements.

All employers who use the list to employ asylum seekers will need to make sure they refer to the new Immigration Salary List (rather than the old list), otherwise they risk employing asylum seekers illegally.

Other important changes for businesses:

  • Appendix Electronic Travel Authorisation has been amended in its validity requirements and suitability requirements. Those who are British Overseas Territory Citizens no longer require an ETA and new exceptions are held in the Immigration Rules, part 9. These relate to the certain exceptions to the refusal ground of having previously overstayed their permission in the UK and the same applies to overstaying as regards cancellation on breach of immigration law grounds. However, a new cancellation ground limits ETA’s, whereby now an authorisation can be cancelled where it transpires one or more validity requirements were not met at the time of the application and an ETA will also only be valid where the holder uses the same passport in the application. It is imperative to ensure during the application process and from then on, the rules are complied with.
  • Appendix Visitor – Permit Free Festival List is being expanded. This is a list of events that contribute to the UK cultural heritage so performers can be paid for as their participation as visitors. These performers essentially do not need to be sponsored under the points-based system but can be paid. This will allow employers in the music or cultural festivals industry positively; they will no longer be required to sponsor artists under the Points Based System if they successfully apply to be included on the list.
  • The English language requirements for visa applications is being updated. Going forward if an applicant has studied an international GCSE, this can be used to evidence that they meet the English language requirement for certain visa applications.

If you have any queries, please get in touch with our immigration team.