March 2024 UK immigration statement of changes: what employers need to know

March 2024 UK immigration statement of changes: what employers need to know

28th March 2024

Introducing the latest UK Immigration Rules Statement of Changes, Legal Immigration Minister Tom Pursglove announced that they will “deliver the biggest ever cut to migration over the course of this year.”

The Statement of Changes HC590 will have serious consequences for employers from 4 April, as well as for British citizens and settled residents bringing partners to live with them in the UK from 11 April.

This is an outline of the changes for organisations with non-resident staff in the UK. 

Minimum salaries to sponsor new Skilled Workers

The Skilled Worker visa has been the main British work immigration route since the UK left the European Union losing freedom of movement with other European countries.

Organisations with a Skilled Worker sponsor licence can sponsor non-resident staff who qualify for a Skilled Worker visa in genuine vacancies if they pay the higher amount of the general Skilled Worker visa threshold, or the going rate of pay for the particular role as set by the UK government.

For most new Skilled Worker visas the general threshold will increase from £26,200 to £38,700 on 4 April. Minimum salary threshold will increase for those with discounts: from £23,580 to £34,830 for Skilled Workers with a relevant PhD and from £20,960 to £30,960 for those with a relevant STEM PhD, New Entrants, or those on the Shortage Occupation / Immigration Salary List.

As well as the general annual pay threshold rise, the different going rates for particular occupations will also increase on 4 April.

Until now employers could sponsor a Skilled Worker if they were paid a salary matching or above the bottom 25% of salaries for that occupation, according to the Office of National Statistics’ Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

From 4 April, the UK government will use the 50th percentile (median) of salaries in that occupation to set the new going rate.

Shortage Occupations

On 4 April the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) is being scrapped, along with its 20% discount on the going rate for employers facing skills shortages in occupations on the list. A heavily reduced list of jobs will remain on an “Immigration Salaries List” (ISL) which replaces the SOL. The ISL will still benefit from a reduced general salary threshold - now £30,960.

For example, there is a current shortage of programmers and software developers in the UK. Until now they could be hired on Skilled Worker visas if paid £27,200 (based on a 37.5-hour week). From 4 April, they would have to be paid a minimum of the new going rate of £49,400 (higher than the £38,700 general Skilled Worker threshold). The new ISL only includes a few shortage roles with median pay under that amount, such as various construction trades, lab technicians, pharmaceutical technicians.

Renewing current Skilled Workers’ visas 

Those already on the Skilled Worker route are exempt from these salary hikes when it comes to extending their visa, changing sponsoring employer or applying for settlement.

Their going rate of pay should progress at the same rate as resident workers – on updated 25th percentiles using the latest pay data when they next make an application after 4 April. The minimum general salary threshold for Skilled Workers already on the immigration route before 4 April will be £29,000 when they renew, change sponsor, or apply for settlement. The threshold will be £26,100 if they have a relevant PhD, £23,200 for a relevant STEM PhD, workers on the SOL/ISL, New Entrants or for those on a national pay scale.

Skilled Workers currently sponsored in a role which is on either the SOL or ISL list but no longer on the list when they make their next application, may still be sponsored on the lower general threshold, but only if they extend their visa to continue working in the same role for the same sponsor. Otherwise, their pay must meet the above general thresholds and the updated 25th percentile going rate, similar to those already sponsored as Skilled Workers before 4 April.

Skilled Workers under some SOC codes which are eligible for sponsorship under the current rules may no longer be eligible after 4 April 2024 because they are now deemed to be skilled below RQF Level 3 – see below occupation code changes. Occupations that no longer qualify include nannies, fashion stylists and car salesmen. Those who had continuous permission as a Skilled Worker before the new rules but now find their roles ineligible will only be able to apply for a visa extension in that role if they continue working for the same employer. It will no longer be possible to be sponsored by a new employer.

New occupation codes

The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system used to classify occupations is being updated from the SOC 2010 definitions to the newer SOC 2020 codes on 4 April. SOC codes for jobs are changing to the Office of National Statistic’s 2020 set of definitions, with different numbering, some changes in categories and some occupations no longer qualifying for Skilled Worker sponsorship.

Employers intending to apply for Skilled Worker visas before these changes take effect should note that they must assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) before 4 April 2024.

Requests are taking longer than usual, and UK Visas and Immigration has announced that the online sponsorship management system will stop working between 7pm on 2 April and 9am on 4 April in order to update new 2020 SOC codes for all occupations. 

This, on top of Easter Bank Holidays, further reduces the timescale to assign a CoS before 4 April. DCoS allocations granted before 4 April 2024 but not assigned by this date will be cancelled and a new request must be submitted via the sponsorship management system (in accordance with the rules after 4 April). UCoS allocations unused by 4 April will remain valid but if assigned from that date will be subject to the new rules.

Sponsoring staff on national pay scales / Health and Care visas

Employees on national pay scales such as teachers or medical practitioners may be sponsored on a minimum salary threshold of £23,200 up from £20,960 on 4 April and should be paid at least according to the national pay scale for that role. 

New health and care workers not on a pay scale (such as health care practice managers) have a general threshold increase to £29,000 from £26,200 and the going rate they will have to be paid increases along the 25th percentile, not the median like for most other Skilled Worker visas. 

The discounted general threshold for health and care workers with a relevant PhD rises from £23,800 to £26,100 on 4 April. For those with a relevant STEM PhD, on the SOL/ISL or New Entrants the general threshold increase is from £20,960 to £23,200.

Fewer permitted occupations for asylum seekers

At present the only jobs asylum seekers are permitted to do – and only if they have been waiting over 12 months for a decision through no fault of their own – are roles on the Shortage Occupation List.

The government has ignored the Migration Advisory Committee’s repeated recommendation that asylum seekers that are permitted to work are allowed to contribute in any occupations, or at the very least all skilled occupations. With tens of thousands of asylum seekers and their dependants stuck in limbo, the Statement of Changes instead restricts permitted jobs even further to the very few shortage occupations which make it onto the new ISL. 

Scale-up sponsors

The Scale-up visa salary threshold is not increasing by as much as that of Skilled Workers on 4 April, with a smaller change from £34,600 to £36,300. The going rate for this route continues to be set at the 25th percentile.

Combined with the lower sponsor licence fee, Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) fee and lack of Immigration Skills Charge, a Scale-up sponsor licence becomes a very attractive alternative to the Skilled Worker sponsor licence for organisations that qualify as scale-ups.  

The salary requirements for workers on Scale-up visas to extend or settle are based on earnings already earned in the preceding two or three years. Those who applied for a Scale-up visa on or before 11 April 2023 need to only show qualifying PAYE earnings of £33,000 while those who applied between 12 April 2023 and 4 April 2024 will need to show qualifying PAYE earnings of £34,600 to extend or settle.

Global Business Mobility immigration routes

For most, Global Business Mobility visas thresholds are being raised from £45,800 to £48,500, while the Graduate Trainee route threshold is being raised from £24,220 to £25,410. Going rates for the Global Business Mobility routes will continue to be based on the 25th percentile of roles, with those on a Graduate Trainee visa continuing to benefit from a 30% discount to the going rate.

Global Business Mobility Senior or Specialist Workers must be employed by overseas entities. While the £48,500 threshold is higher than the £38,700 for new Skilled Workers, not having a median-based going rate may make the Senior or Specialist Worker route an attractive alternative to overseas companies transferring staff to the UK. Previously, employers may have found the Skilled Worker route easier.

It may also be easier for overseas sponsors to meet Senior or Specialist Worker salary levels as they can include some allowances which are prohibited under the Skilled Worker route. 

Some SOC codes currently eligible for sponsorship under Global Business Mobility rules are deemed to be below RQF Level 6 after 4 April and so interior designers and care home managers, for example, are no longer skilled enough to be sponsored on these routes. Any Global Business Mobility workers no longer at RQF Level 6 with continuous permission before the rule change will be able to apply to extend their role. Otherwise, they may apply to be sponsored in these jobs on the Skilled Worker route.

Minimum income for partner visa applications

The minimum income requirement for British and resident workers to sponsor a partner on a family visa increases from £18,600 to £29,000 for applications made on or after 11 April 2024. There will be no additional income requirement for children.

Rental income, self-employment or savings can be used to prove that someone can support their loved one if they do not meet the earnings threshold. However, the amount can be prohibitive. For every two and a half years of the partner visa, a British worker earning £22,000 rather than the required £29,000, for example, would have to show savings equivalent to the £7,000 shortfall multiplied by two and a half plus a sum of £16,000 – so £33,500. This rises up to £88,500 if the couple are coming back to the UK and the British partner does not have a job offer as well as 12-months’ salary.

Those already holding a family visa, granted a fiancé visa before the threshold hike or applying before the impending income threshold increase this spring, will continue to have visa applications assessed against the current £18,600 requirement.

The Home Secretary initially announced that the threshold for new applications would be raised to match the new median wage threshold for Skilled Worker visas of £38,700. Following an outcry, this is set to be implemented in stages. Initially the minimum income requirement will rise to £29,000 from 11 April 2024, then again in the Autumn to £34,500 and in Spring 2025 it is due to hit £38,700.

If you are concerned or would like to discuss any of the above changes or indeed any UK immigration matters, please do not hesitate to contact Vanessa Ganguin.