In unusual fashion, the pre-festive period brought with it a number of significant announcements from the Home Office. Changes to the Immigration Rules were announced and shortly before Christmas, the Government sought to shed some more light on the previously announced five point plan.

On 7th December 2023, the Government published a Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules setting out changes which come into effect in January and April/Spring of this year.

So, what are the key immigration changes that are due to take place?

Immigration changes from 31 January 2024

From 31 January 2024, the following will take effect:

  • Changes to the Visitor route;
  • Expansion of the Youth Mobility Scheme; and
  • Introduction of Appendix Victim of Domestic Abuse.

But perhaps of greater concern to most businesses and individuals is the imminent increase of the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). Previously due to be increased no earlier than 16th January, the matter is scheduled for debate in the House of Commons on 10 January. The increase may only be implemented 21 days after it becomes law and therefore should take effect from 31st January 2024. Applications submitted on or after this date will likely incur the higher IHS rate.

The IHS is set to increase more than 65% for both rates. The normal rate will increase from £624 per year to £1,035 per year and the special rate will increase from £470 per year to £776 per year.

Changes to the Visitor route

Some of the key changes to the route are as follows:

  1. Permitted intra-corporate activities will include allowing visitors employed abroad to work directly with clients when visiting a group business in the UK. However, any client-facing activity must only be incidental to the visitor’s overseas employment and must not amount to the offshoring of a project or service to their overseas employer.
  2. Confirmation that visitors are allowed to work remotely in the UK. However, remote working must not be the primary purpose of their visit.
  3. Allowing speakers at conferences to be paid for this activity.
  4. Integration of the Permitted Paid Engagement Visitor route into the Standard Visitor route. This will allow all visitors to undertake Permitted Paid Engagements (PPE) without the need to apply for a special visa. However, any PPE activity is conditional upon engagements being arranged prior to the visitor travelling to the UK and must be completed within 30 days of their arrival.

Expansion of the Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS)

The YMS, which allows certain nationals within specified age ranges to live and work in the UK for up to two or three years, will be expanded as follows:

  1. Uruguay will be added to the list of eligible nationals.
  2. The total number of allocated places for Japanese and South Korean nationals will be increased. The requirement to obtain an invitation to apply will also be removed for these nationals.
  3. The age range for South Korean nationals will be expanded to 18-35 (previously 18-30).
  4. Australian and Canadian nationals will be able to extend their YMS visa by up to one year.

Introduction of Appendix Victim of Domestic Abuse

The new Appendix will replace existing provisions for victims of domestic abuse and their dependant children currently contained in different sections of the Immigration Rules.

From 31 January 2024, victims and their dependants will be able to apply for entry clearance outside of the UK. Such applications will be permitted where they are abandoned overseas and it is accepted that the overseas abandonment is part of the domestic abuse.

Applicants who were last granted permission under certain routes, including as a partner under Appendix FM, will be eligible to apply for settlement.

Immigration changes from April/Spring 2024

On 21 December 2023, the Home Office published a factsheet to provide further details on the immigration changes the Home Secretary had announced earlier that month.

Following the furore caused by the Home Secretary’s announcement at the beginning of December, the factsheet publication sought to provide clarity on the following:

  • Incremental increase of the new minimum income threshold for family visas;
  • Implementation of the new Skilled Worker salary threshold;
  • Changes to the Health and Care Worker visa. In particular, in relation to dependants on this route;
  • Replacement of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) and review of the Graduate route by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). 

Incremental increase of the new minimum income threshold for family visas

Following its initial announcement, the Government received criticism and warnings that the increase of the minimum income threshold from £18,600 to £38,700 was far too high and prohibitive. The Government has now backtracked to say that the ‘price on love’ will be increased in two stages:

  1. In Spring 2024, the minimum income requirement will be raised to £29,000.
  2. The threshold will then be raised to £34,500 and finally, to £38,700.

It is unclear when the second stage of increases will take place, however the Prime Minister has said the full amount is expected to be reached in early 2025.

The separate child element to the minimum income threshold will also be removed. This means that regardless of the number of children sponsored, the minimum income requirement will remain the same.

The Government also confirmed the increased threshold will not be applicable to:

  • Those already on a family visa on the 5-year partner route;
  • Those who apply before the minimum income threshold is raised; and
  • Those who apply for a family visa on the 5-year partner route who were granted a fiancé(e) visa before the minimum income threshold is raised.

The increased threshold will apply to those switching into the 5-year partner route from within the UK after the minimum income requirement has been increased.

Implementation of the new Skilled Worker salary threshold

The Skilled Worker salary threshold will increase from £26,200 to £38,700 in April 2024. Whilst not explicitly announced by the Home Office, we anticipate that ‘going rates’ for occupations will also increase alongside the salary threshold.

The new salary threshold will not apply to those already on the Skilled Worker route before the Immigration Rules change. Such applicants will be exempt from meeting the new threshold if they change employer, extend their Skilled Worker visa or settle in the UK.

However, the Home Office have said that they will expect the salary of these applicants to progress at the same rate as resident workers meaning revised salaries may need to be met at extension stage.

Changes to the Health and Care Worker visa – with a focus on dependants

Changes to the Health and Care worker visa will be “introduced as soon as possible” in 2024, according to the factsheet.

Care Workers and Senior Care Workers already on the route will be able to remain with their dependants at extension and settlement stages and if they change employers. Similarly, those who already hold a Health and Care Worker visa, but have yet to bring dependants, will still be allowed to bring dependants during their sponsorship.

Those who switch to a Health and Care Worker visa as a Care Worker or Senior Case Worker from within the UK after the changes are introduced will not be able to stay with or bring over dependants.

The factsheet also clarifies that care providers who are not required to be registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), and are therefore sponsoring workers in exclusively non-regulated activities before the rules change, should be able to continue to sponsor workers. They will also be able to sponsor such workers for any visa extensions. However, they will not be able to hire new workers.

Replacement of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) and review of the Graduate route

The SOL will be renamed the ‘Immigration Salary List’.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) will advise on which occupations should remain on the list and will also be commissioned by the Home Office to review the Graduate route.

In the meantime, the current SOL will remain until new salary thresholds are put into place.

The immigration changes that will take place this year will no doubt have a significant impact on businesses and individuals alike. With IHS fees set to increase no earlier than 31 January and salary and minimum income thresholds set to increase by late Spring 2024 at the latest, businesses and individuals considering future applications may wish to accelerate plans and submit applications before the changes come into effect.

If you require assistance or further information regarding upcoming changes, please do not hesitate to contact the Head of Immigration, Sundeep Rathod.

Please note that this blog is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content of this blog.

Edwin Coe LLP is a Limited Liability Partnership, registered in England & Wales (No.OC326366). The Firm is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. A list of members of the LLP is available for inspection at our registered office address: 2 Stone Buildings, Lincoln’s Inn, London, WC2A 3TH. “Partner” denotes a member of the LLP or an employee or consultant with the equivalent standing.

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