There are several key immigration developments in the pipeline which are likely to affect UK employers. Here’s what you need to know:
6 February 2024: Visa Application costs increase
The Immigration Health Surcharge is increasing from £624 to £1,035 per year for most adult UK visa applications from today, 6 February 2024. For under-18s, students and Youth Mobility Scheme applicants, the lower rate will increase from £470 to £776 per year.
13 February 2024: Increase to Civil Penalties for illegal working
Employer fines are increasing from £15,000 to £45,000 for a first breach of section 15 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 which covers any employee found to be working without a valid visa or working in breach of their visa conditions. For subsequent breaches, the fine triples from £20,000 to £60,000 a time for each employee. The increased fines will only apply to breaches occurring on or after 13 February. Our previous blog discusses protective measures employers should take to ensure compliance.
The Home Office has also published an updated Code of Practice on Preventing Illegal Working: Right to Work Scheme for Employers with guidance on establishing a statutory excuse for the purpose of right to work checks. We anticipate a further update to the Home Office’s more comprehensive Employer’s Guide on Right to Work Checks in due course.
22 February 2024: Electronic Travel Authorisation required for certain nationalities
The Home Office is phasing in an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme for visitors who do not already need a visa for short stays to the UK, or who do not already have a UK immigration status prior to travelling. On 1 February 2024, the scheme opened for nationals of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, all of whom will require an ETA to travel to the UK from 22 February 2024. Qatari nationals already need an ETA. Applications can already be submitted online or via an app here. Other nationalities cannot and do not need to apply yet – further updates will be provided throughout 2024.
23 February 2024: MAC to review Shortage Occupation List
The Home Secretary has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to carry out a review of the new Immigration Salary List (replacing the current Shortage Occupation List) by 23 February 2024 to recommend which roles should be included on the new list in time for its implementation and other changes to the Skilled Worker route from 4 April. There is no provision (and insufficient time) for employer consultation regarding which roles should be included. The MAC has also been asked to review the Graduate visa route to “prevent abuse, protect the integrity and quality of UK higher education and ensure it works in the best interests of the UK” but no date has been set for changes to this route.
14 March 2024: New Immigration Rules published
New Immigration Rules will be laid before Parliament providing much-needed detail on most of the changes announced in early December 2023 as well as the new Immigration Salary List. The Home Office has since advised that the planned salary threshold increase should not affect those already in the Skilled Worker route when they change sponsor, extend their visas, or settle (although thresholds for those applications are likely to increase moderately at the same rate as salaries for resident workers, in line with current practice). However, employers still urgently need confirmation that the lower New Entrant salary rate will continue to apply to, amongst others, Graduate and Student visa holders and those under the age of 26 at the date of application, as well as the level of that lower rate. The new Immigration Rules will take effect in most cases from 4 April.
4 April 2024: Skilled Worker Visa Changes come into force including:
- Increase to the general salary threshold from £26,200 to £38,700 for new applicants to the Skilled Worker route on or after 4 April
- Removal of the 20% going rate discount for occupations on the Shortage Occupation List and the contents of its replacement, the Immigration Salary List
- Increases to the annual going rates for individual occupations eligible under the Skilled Worker route.
6 April 2024: No need to renew sponsor licences
In a rare piece of positive immigration-related news, sponsors with licences expiring on or after 6 April have been told via a note on the Sponsor Management System that the Home Office has removed the requirement to renew their sponsor licence or pay a renewal fee. Those that have already paid to renew will receive a refund. For these lucky sponsors, the Home Office has already extended licence expiry dates by 10 years (this can be viewed by logging in to the Sponsor Management System and viewing the Licence Summary page). Less fortunate sponsors with licences expiring before 6 April this year will still have to apply to extend before their licence expiry date and will not be entitled to a refund.
Whilst this is a welcome development, the licence renewal process has often been a sensible point at which (and timely reminder) to undertake an internal immigration audit in anticipation of a Home Office compliance visit. Our view is that the removal of the renewal process will free up resources to increase the number Home Office compliance visits in line with the government’s stated intention “to consult on options to strengthen action against licensed businesses who are employing illegal workers”. Sponsors should therefore continue to ensure that they are fully prepared for a Home Office compliance visit which can take place at any time, whether on notice or unannounced.
By 31 December 2024: expiry of Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs)
The Home Office is gradually digitising the UK immigration system. An increasing number of applicants are already issued with e-visas but many of those with physical BRPs will have noticed an expiry date of 31 December 2024 even if their immigration permission is valid for a longer period or they are already settled and no longer subject to UK immigration control. From 1 January 2025, BRP holders will be able to prove their immigration status online, without a BRP. The Home Office has said that it will be contacting BRP holders throughout 2024 asking them to register for a UVKI account (if they don’t hold one already) to access their immigration status details online. BRP holders do not need to take any action in the meantime.
2025: ETIAS (the EU version of Electronic Travel Authorisation)
ETIAS travel authorisation is an entry requirement for visa-exempt nationals travelling to any of these 30 European countries. Although originally envisaged to launch in 2024, ETIAS is currently not in operation and no applications can currently be made. Updates will be published here.
If you have any questions about these changes, please contact your usual Squire Patton Boggs business immigration team member or Annabel Mace, partner and Head of UK Immigration. Even better, please listen and subscribe to our Workforce Worldview podcast series starting with our first episode Planned Immigration Changes for 2024.