UK Immigration Law In 2024: What You Need To Know

Mariam Abu HusseinLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 19th January 2024

This year, there will be several changes to immigration law in the UK. Through these changes, the government aims to reduce net migration and stop abuse of the system while making short-term immigration easier with several new and improved technologies.

As we know, immigration has been a hot topic in Parliament lately. Recent ONS figures showed that net migration up to June 2023 reached 672,000 people, and was deemed as “far too high” by the Minister of State. This ongoing issue was only highlighted by Rishi Sunak’s win in December of the Rwanda Deportation Bill

Currently, both the Conservative and Labour parties generally agree on immigration themes, which can often be a rarity,  so these policies are likely to continue even if the government changes and the next general election. However, detailed Labour policies are still unknown.

In this article, we cover everything you need to know about the main expected changes to immigration law including the illegal working civil penalty increases; restrictions on certain routes; any procedures being phased out; and what it means for international students. 

Illegal working civil penalty increases

When an employer unintentionally hires someone without the necessary permission to do the job, illegal working civil penalties are carried out.

Starting from early 2024, the maximum penalty for each identified illegal worker will rise significantly, from £20,000 to £60,000. Also, the penalty for a first breach will increase from £15,000 to £45,000.

To avoid being liable and at fault for an illegal working civil penalty, employers should cover themselves by completing proper right-to-work checks following the Home Office guidance.

Following this guidance can be complex, so you might want to seek legal advice on following the rules accurately and making sure you get everything right, and minimise the risk of any penalties or sponsor compliance actions. 

This change is still progressing through Parliament though and is not yet finalised, so the earliest implementation date for this is expected to be in February 2024. 

Further crackdown on sponsor licences

The cancellation of sponsor licences slowed down during the pandemic, so the Home Office increased the cancellation of these licences during 2022 and 2023. This is due to continue into 2024, which will affect sponsors, particularly in the care sector, supporting the Home Office’s efforts to curb those working illegally. 

If you are a sponsor, be mindful of your sponsorship responsibilities and make sure your Human Resources systems and practices are sound.

To help prevent the risk of licence suspension or revocation, you could consider doing some sponsor licence refresher training or running a mock audit of your current processes. This proactive approach will help ensure that you are well-prepared and are following the rules. 

Restrictions on the Skilled Worker route

On December 4th, 2023, the UK Government shared a 5-point plan to reduce the number of people moving to the country and support the reduction in migration.

The plan focuses on making it harder for skilled workers to come into the UK, building on previous changes affecting students, fees, and health charges. The government expects a big drop in migration—around 300,000 people—in the coming year.

More details were given on December 21st, 2023, including plans to ease the impact on skilled workers already in the system by April 2024. 

Let’s have a look at the changes for skilled workers in 2024:

Higher salary requirements

The minimum salary needed for skilled workers goes up from £26,200 to £38,700 in April 2024.

Better pay for specific jobs

The pay rates for certain jobs will increase from the lower 25% to the middle 50% of the salary range from April 2024.

No more discounts for in-demand jobs

The 20% salary discount for jobs in demand will be removed in April 2024.

New salary list for shortage jobs

The list of jobs in demand will change, and there will be a new list with lower salary requirements in April 2024.

Care homes need extra registration

Care homes sponsoring new care workers must register with the Care Quality Commission starting in early 2024.

No dependants for carers

Carers and senior carers can't bring family members when they come after early 2024.

Increasing the salary limit could mean that only very senior members of many medium-skilled jobs can still come into the country. Some jobs, like those in construction, retail, hospitality, and food, might become too expensive for employers to hire through the immigration system.

For employers who sponsor workers, it's a good idea to plan for any new jobs you want to fill and get applications in before the rules change in April 2024. You should help any existing students or graduates you already have with their immigration needs. 

You could also consider moving senior or specialist workers to the new system or see if it's possible and fair to pay more to keep sponsoring skilled workers. Be sure to check the salaries for sponsored jobs, and understand which roles are still eligible based on new pay rules. 

Of course, keep an eye out for any more details on new rules and arrangements.

Taking action quickly might also help avoid higher health charges, which we will cover next.

Increase of the Immigration Health Surcharge

The fee for the Immigration Health Surcharge, which applicants must pay, is going up soon. The policy is currently waiting for approval from parliament, so these changes won't now happen before February, which does give you a short time to apply before the charges go up. 

So, should you apply before the increase? Well, this depends on a few things. 

  • If you don’t have to pay and are exempt from the charge, there's no rush to apply.

  • If you are a sponsored worker, you need to check if you have the right paperwork to apply, which would be a sponsorship certificate.

  • The sponsored job should start within three months after the date of application.

  • Consider how the application timing aligns with when the permission expires and future settlement plans.

The new yearly rates depend on your immigration category. 

For students, student dependents, youth mobility schemes, and applications by children under 18, fees go up from £470 to £776.

For other relevant immigration categories, including skilled workers, fees go up from £624 to £1,035.

Considering the recent fee increases in October, the total cost for a five-year skilled worker visa, excluding dependents, is currently around £10,000. With the Immigration Health Surcharge increase, this cost will go up to nearly £12,000.

These rising immigration-related costs might make sponsors rethink how they share the financial burden with sponsored workers. It's important to be careful when thinking about passing on costs to sponsored workers, especially since the immigration skills charge can't be transferred under any circumstances. 

Getting advice on recouping other immigration-related costs, either through repayment or clawback agreements, is a good idea to make sure everything follows sponsorship rules and employment law.

Replacement of the Sponsor Management System

The Home Office is currently in the process of introducing new services for sponsors, replacing the existing Sponsor Management System (SMS). Although some of these services were originally planned to be rolled out in 2023 as part of the Home Office's sponsorship roadmap, there have been delays, and we don’t currently have a set timeline for this rollout.

The upcoming services are:

This feature will enable visa applicants to access a partially pre-filled online application form once the details of their role have been approved. 

Manage a licence

Sponsors will have the ability to use this service to carry out their sponsor licence reporting functions. This will be on a new platform, replacing the current SMS.

Become a sponsor

This service will introduce a new application process for individuals and entities looking to become sponsors.

Sponsors should keep an eye out for updates on this and get to know the changes around these services, which should make everything quicker and easier. 

EU Settlement Scheme reforms

In 2023, the Home Office changed the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) due to a legal challenge. They automatically extended the permission for those with pre-settled status by an extra two years. This extension should be processed a month or two before the existing pre-settled status ends. Employers are advised to wait until within a month of expiry to check their right to work online and confirm the extended permission.

It's unclear if the Home Office plans to cancel or reduce permission for those who disrupted their continuous residence. The employer’s guide to right-to-work checks says no extension will be given if the person no longer meets pre-settled status requirements. Further clarification from the Home Office is expected.

In 2024, the government aims to use automated decision-making for those with pre-settled status seeking settled status if they qualify. More details on the date and the process are awaited.

There's an expectation of legal challenges in 2024 related to stricter treatment of late EUSS applications since August 9, 2023. Limited English skills or being unaware of the EUSS deadline won't be seen as 'reasonable grounds' for late applications. Some applicants may challenge this decision through a legal review. If successful, it could lead to a reconsideration of the current policy.

Reforms to immigration routes

As part of the government’s aims to reduce net migration, they are implementing specific measures that target family-related immigration routes. 

The minimum income requirement increase for the five-year partner route will rise from the current requirement of £18,600 to £29,000 in Spring 2024 and with future planned increases to £34,500 and £38,700 possibly in early 2025. 

If you have an existing application and extension, or are applying as a fiance or partner before the threshold is raised, this will be assessed against the current income requirements. 

From January 1 2024, dependents are only allowed for international students on PhD or research-based postgraduate courses, with exemptions for government-sponsored students and children born in the UK. This could affect the talent pool for those employers who would recruit dependents of students who hold visas. 

As well as family-related immigration routes, there will be other reforms planned to start taking effect in 2024. 

There will be an expansion of visitor activities that are permitted, from January 31, 2024. If you apply for a visa before you plan on travelling, you will be able to benefit from this if you do so before or after the date above. If you are a non-visa national, you will be able to get the benefits of this when you enter the UK as a visitor on or after this date. 

And it’s good news for employers too. Business travellers can engage in intra-corporate activities directly with clients, such as advising or consulting and visitors will be allowed to work remotely on overseas employment-related activities, as long as it is not the only and main purpose of the visit. 

Plus, experts who are invited for permitted paid engagements can stay up to six months instead of one. This will be handy for people who work in academics, sportspeople, artists, or entertainers.

We must also cover the expansion changes of the Youth Mobility Scheme for applications made from January 31, 2024. The YMS gives young adults over the age of 18 from countries who participate in the scheme opportunities to experience life in the UK for a set period. 

The countries that are currently participating in the scheme are:

  • Australia

  • Canada

  • Iceland

  • India

  • Japan

  • New Zealand

  • Taiwan

  • South Korea

  • Hong Kong

  • Monaco 

  • Andorra and Uruguay will be joining the scheme from January 31st. 

The reforms and changes set out for applications made after January 31st state that there will be an age limit increase for Australians and Canadians, moving from 30 years old to 35, with the stay limit also being extended from two to three years. 

If you are an employer, this is more good news as anyone with a YMS visa has unrestricted work conditions, apart from not being able to work as a professional sportsperson or be self-employed for certain types of work. They don’t need to have visa sponsorship either! 

This is an area that is expected to grow throughout 2024, with YMS provisions expected to be negotiated with EEA countries, and maximising cultural exchange and experience on a larger scale. 

And finally, we must discuss the review of immigration routes for the agricultural sector and the seasonal worker route. Employers in this sector are crying out for more capacity to recruit workers from overseas who will meet the skills shortages. On this basis, the MAC began an inquiry into this scheme in 2023, and it is still in progress. So stay tuned on this area expected to change! 

That’s a lot to take in! To summarise some key considerations for employers

  • Make sure you understand the changes in visitor activities to avoid sanctions for employing illegal workers

  • Explore opportunities under the expanded Youth Mobility Scheme, which offers unrestricted work conditions

  • Stay informed about potential reforms in the Graduate route and Seasonal Worker route based on reviews.

Phasing out of physical immigration documents

Many will be thrilled to hear that the Home Office is planning to phase out physical documents by the end of 2024, and it will change to an eVisa on a UKVI account, that you will need to register for. 

To prove your status to employers, landlords, and others, you will simply use the Home Office’s View and Prove service.

So, how do you register? Well, the details of this process are due to be shared at some point in 2024, however, it would be a good move for employers to try and minimise the impact of this change for anyone needing a repeat right-to-work check. An early check using the current online process for people who have limited immigration permission would help. 

Continued rollout of Electronic Travel Authorisations

The government’s digital permission to travel scheme for non-visa nationals and people from countries currently eligible to use the Electronic Waiver Scheme, the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA), will apply where they want to travel to the UK as a visitor; a creative worker for up to 3 months; or as a person transiting the UK. 

British and Irish passport holders (or anyone from Ireland coming from the Common Travel Area or who already have a visa) don’t need to get an ETA. 

This system is already live for citizens from Qatar, and all those from Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, Kuwait, The UAE and Saudi Arabia can apply from February 1st, 2024, if travelling on or after February 22nd, 2024. It will be fully live and rolled out to all non-visa nationals by the close of 2024. 

How do you get an ETA? This involves an online application, giving biometric details using the UK ETA app, and a payment of £10. This normally takes 3 working days to process, but of course can take longer. Once given, a person can enjoy multiple entries to the UK, which lasts 2 years, or until the passport expiry date if this is earlier. 

Replacement of the Shortage Occupation List

As part of the 5-point immigration plan, the government confirmed that the Shortage Occupation List, which details the roles that the government deems to be in short supply in the UK, will be replaced with a new Immigration Salary List, expected in Spring 2024. As part of the change, the ISL will keep the general threshold discount, but won’t feature the 20% going rate salary discount for shortage occupations. 

The MAC is also going to be reviewing the roles that are on the SOL currently, with a plan to reduce the number of shortage occupations that will be on the Immigration Salary List. 

Removal of the graduate visa

The Home Office has also asked the MAC to review the Graduate route, from January this year with reforms expected after the review, possibly in late 2024. This route was first launched in 2020/21, allowing international students graduating to access a 2-year post-study work visa, and was welcomed with open arms, with stakeholders arguing many advantages for the sector and the students themselves. 

Cleverly said, “[The Graduate Route] needs to work in the best interests of the UK, supporting the pathway into high-quality jobs for the global talent pool but reducing opportunities for abuse”. The government is keen to “protect the integrity of the UK’s outstanding higher education sector”, making it clear that they “want to attract the best and the brightest”. 

Get help from an immigration solicitor

At Lawhive, our immigration solicitors are here to help. For personalised advice and support, contact our legal assessment team for a free case assessment today.

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