2024 has already been a year of rapid change for the UK’s most-used immigration routes. The rest of the year looks set to be no less eventful and in particular, important changes to both the Skilled Worker and partner routes will be coming into force in early April.  

Common themes of the new measures are increased financial requirements and restrictions on the rights of dependants to join their family. They either already affect or soon will affect students, the global business mobility and scale up routes, seasonal workers, creative workers, care workers, skilled workers, their employers and their families.

In this context, the difference between an application being considered under the old or new rules can amount to thousands of pounds of additional income to evidence and can determine whether dependant relatives are able to accompany their family members to the UK. 

Below are some of the key dates to consider when looking to apply, extend or switch immigration status.

The year so far

On 1 January 2024, restrictions to the student visa route came into effect prohibiting bringing dependant family members to the UK. There are two exceptions to this rule: students are exempt if (1) they are enrolled on a multi-year post-graduate research degree course or (2) are on a course with government-funded scholarship(s).

On 6 February 2024, the government implemented an increase in the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), which affects applicants across immigration routes. Applications made since this date now pay an increased sum based on the relevant visa category: for students, student dependants, those applying under the Youth Mobility Scheme and children, the charge increased from £470 to £776. For all other visa categories, the charge increased from £624 to £1035.

Employers should note that since 13 February 2024, civil penalties for employing workers without the right to work have tripled to £45,000 for a first breach, and to £60,000 for repeat offences.

Since 11 March 2024, overseas care workers no longer have the option to bring their dependant family members to the UK.

This change does not affect individuals who are already in the UK as care workers: they may remain in the UK with their dependant family members even if they choose to extend their permission, change their employment or make an application for indefinite leave to remain.

However, if an individual is in the UK under a different immigration route with dependants and chooses to switch into a care visa as a care worker or senior care worker, their dependants can no longer remain in the UK with them.

What’s to come?

As of 4 April 2024, individuals applying under the Skilled Worker route will face whichever is the higher of two increased salary thresholds:

  • a general minimum salary requirement of £38,700 per year; and
  • a newly increased series of occupation-specific going salary rates. These are calculated on the basis of the new SOC 2020 codes and accompanying hourly rates as well as the worker’s hours per week. There are some exceptions in place for national pay scale occupations and Health and Care occupations not on a national pay scale;

Other changes related to Skilled Workers include:

  • the replacement of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) with a new Immigration Salary List (ISL), which will not have a 20% going rate discount for occupations on the ISL;
  • an expansion of supplementary employment permission.

Under the current Rules, supplementary employment must meet all of the following requirements:

  • it must be in the same profession and at the same professional level (i.e. in the same occupation code) as the work for which the Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) was assigned for the current role, or be a job on the SOL (note that if the relevant job were later removed from the SOL, the supplementary employment must cease);
  • it must be for no more than 20 hours a week;
  • you must continue working in the job for which your CoS was assigned; and
  • the supplementary employment must take place outside of the normal working hours for which your CoS was assigned.

After 4 April 2024, supplementary employment for Skilled Workers will be permitted in any occupation that is eligible for the Skilled Worker route.

Although the new rules will enter into force on the 4th of April 2024, transitional arrangements will apply until 3 April 2030 for Skilled Workers whose CoS is assigned before 4 April 2024, and who have maintained continuity of permission as a Skilled Worker since that time.

This means that it is crucial for employers to assign eligible CoS before the 4th of April deadline, otherwise the salary on offer will need to meet the new thresholds. The window to take action, is narrowing further as the Home Office’s sponsorship management system will be offline as of 7PM on 2 April 2024, pulling the effective transitional deadline forward. It will not be possible to request or assign Certificates of sponsorship after this time, until after the 4th of April deadline.

Also as of 4 April 2024, the Global Business Mobility general salary threshold will be increased to £48,500 for senior or specialist and UK expansions workers and to £25,410 per year for graduate trainees. The threshold for the Scale-Up route it will be increased to £36,300 per year.

Lastly, as of 11 April 2024 British citizens or those who are settled in the UK and want to sponsor their partner will be required to meet a minimum income threshold of £29,000. Those relying on cash savings will therefore be required to show savings of £88,500 from 11 April 2024, in comparison to the current £62,500 threshold. The government has announced the minimum income requirement will increase further, incrementally, to £38,700 by early 2025. This will mean those relying on cash savings will have to show savings of £112,750 once the further increase has come into force.

Looking ahead

Although we do not have exact dates for all future changes, and it is common for these measures to be announced piecemeal, a full review of the new Immigration Salary list will likely be carried out in 2024, and by the end of the year, the Home Office is seeking to phase-out of physical immigration documents including Biometric Residence Permits, Biometric Residence Cards and other paper-based documents in favour of online UKVI accounts.

The material in this article is provided for guidance and general information only and is not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice upon which you should rely. In particular, the information should not be used as a substitute for a full and proper consultation with a suitably qualified professional. Please do contact the Bates Wells team if you require further information.