Tougher Immigration Rule Changes Planned for Spring 2024
After UK net migration figures (the difference between the number of people coming to live in the UK and those leaving) hit a record high of 745,000 last year, the Government has announced there will be tougher immigration rules in place to significantly reduce this figure. On 4 December 2023, the UK Home Secretary, James Cleverly, introduced the following five point plan to reduce net migration by around 300,000:
- Overseas care workers will no longer be able to bring dependants to the UK, and care providers wishing to sponsor overseas care workers will need to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission
- The minimum salary threshold for workers under the Skilled Worker visa route will increase by one third from £26,200 per year to £38,700 per year. There will be an exemption for health and social care roles
- The 20% going rate salary discount, which can currently be applied to Shortage Occupation routes, will be removed. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) will be asked to review the Shortage Occupation List, and the Government intends to create a new, shorter list of shortage occupation roles in collaboration with the MAC
- The minimum income threshold for family visas will increase significantly from £18,600 to £38,700, in line with the new Skilled Worker salary threshold. This is a surprising change as it will impact low income British citizens or younger couples who tend to earn lower salaries
- The Graduate route will be reviewed to ensure it is not being abused.
The net migration issue has been a political challenge for years, and it seems the above changes are coming into force just in time for the next general election, due in 2024.
These measures will complement a number of other previously announced measures intended to reduce net migration figures:
- Students will lose the right to bring dependants to the UK from January 2024, unless they are on post-graduate courses that are designated as essential research; and
- The Immigration Health Surcharge fee will increase from £624 to £1,035 per annum, from 16 January 2024, a significant rise of 66%!
In addition, other visa routes are being impacted in 2024 as explained in more detail below.
Potential Expansion of Business Visitor route and Youth Mobility Scheme
While the Government is heavily focused on reducing net migration to the UK, it has suggested a much more expansive approach for business visitors, who do not count towards the UK’s net migration figures. In the Autumn Statement 2023, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated "it is vital that businesses can access the talent they need" in order to "deliver on the 2023 Spring Budget’s commitment to make it easier and more attractive to do business in the UK”. The Statement also announced that the Government intends to simplify and expand the UK Business route and the Youth Mobility Scheme, outlining the following changes it intends to explore in 2024:
- Introducing changes that “will broaden and clarify the activities that can be undertaken in an intra-corporate setting”
- Including wider coverage for the legal services sector, and simplification of the paid engagements routes
- Exploring the potential for further enhanced provisions linked to trade negotiations.
Youth Mobility Scheme
- Signing and expanding new and existing Youth Mobility Schemes to make sure the next generation of talent have a wide range of opportunities to live, work and travel abroad and experience other cultures
- Expanding the eligibility and length of stay available for participants from Canada, New Zealand, and Australia
- Adding a further 9,100 Youth Mobility Schemes places through new and expanded agreements, including with Japan and South Korea.
The Autumn Statement specifically notes that these changes relate to short term business visas and youth schemes, and therefore they do not impact on the overall level of net migration.
Further changes expected in 2024
In addition to the above announcements, the following Immigration Rule changes are also taking effect in 2024:
Electronic Travel Authorisation Expansion Scheme
The Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) Scheme will continue to be expanded to more countries throughout 2024. This will impact non-visa national transits through the UK who do not currently need an entry clearance visa prior to travel, such as short-term visits to the UK for up to six months for tourism, visiting family and friends, permitted business activities, and trips of up to three months for Creative Workers who currently fall under the concessions permitted for non-visa nationals. This requirement has already been introduced on 15 November 2023 for Qatari nationals. Nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates will need an ETA to travel to the UK for relevant purposes from 22 February 2024, and applications open from 1 February 2024. Dates will be announced in due course for all other non-visa nationalities.
Similar electronic travel authorisation provisions (ETIAS) will be introduced across most other European countries from 2024 onwards, which will impact British nationals travelling to another European country for short-term visits.
Increased Penalties for Illegal Working
The previous Home Secretary announced in August 2023 that the civil penalties for allowing migrants to illegally work or rent in the UK will triple in 2024. Employers will face fines of £45,000 per illegal worker for the first breach, and up to £60,000 per illegal worker for further breaches within a three year period of the first fine. Employers may face a prison sentence of up to five years, or an unlimited fine if found guilty of employing someone who they knew, or had reasonable cause to believe, is working illegally in the UK. Further details on these changes can be found here.
The Draft Code of Practice on Preventing Illegal Working was published in November 2023 and confirms these increased penalties. Further updates will follow once the finalised guidance is published.
Enforcement action by the Home Office has been steadily increasing. The UK immigration landscape is fast moving and it is important to remain up to date.
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For further information on the above rule changes, and how we can support you with immigration matters, please contact a member of our Immigration team or, alternatively, submit and enquiry form.
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