In separate statements made over the summer months the Home Office announced a number of changes affecting migrants and, potentially, their UK employers as well.
In a statement made before Parliament on 13 July 2023, the UK government announced its intention to increase immigration fees and the Immigration Health Surcharge.
Then, on 17 July 2023, the Home Office published a new Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules; affecting students, dependants, EU Settlement Scheme applicants, and Ukrainian nationals.
In this overview we are summarise some of the most notable updates.
Immigration Health Surcharge (‘IHS’) and other fee increases
The Immigration Health Surcharge is a levy collected by the government from a migrant at the time of a visa application. Subject to certain exceptions, it is applicable to all visa applicants. At present, the levy is set at £624 per year for an adult applicant and £470 for a child.
The government intends to increase this levy by 66%, which means an increase to £1,035 per year for adults and £776 per year for children. Although it has not been confirmed when the change will come into effect, it is anticipated that this will happen in early 2024.
The government has also indicated that the visa and nationality application fees will be increased by 15 – 20%.
Although payment of the IHS is ultimately the migrant’s responsibility, these changes will make already expensive immigration applications even more challenging from the financial perspective, and may result in employers who are currently looking to sponsor overseas workers to re-think their hiring strategy or putting a limit on how much of the migrant’s costs they will support.
Changes to the Student Route
As part of the government's commitment to reduce net migration, modifications have been made to the Student route. These changes include:
a) Exclusion of Dependants: International students starting courses in the UK from 1 January 2024 will no longer have the right to bring dependants, except for postgraduate students enrolled in research programs. This change will not apply to any students who have already started their courses in the UK or will be starting before 1 January 2024.
b) Restriction on Switching routes: International students are no longer able to switch from the student route to work routes prior to completing their studies, unless their employment start date is after their course completion date. Prior to this change students have been able to switch to a work without having completed their course. PhD level students are permitted to switch on completion of at least 24 months of studying towards a PhD qualification in the UK, which is a doubling of the 12 months of study required previously for PhD students.
Changes to the Skilled Worker route
The Skilled Worker route has been updated based on recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). Key revisions include:
a) Expansion of the Shortage Occupation List: Jobs in construction occupations, such as bricklayers, roofers, carpenters, and plasterers, have been added to the Shortage Occupation List. This allows employers to hire skilled workers from overseas more easily.
b) Inclusion of Fishing Industry Occupations: Occupations in the fishing industry, including agriculture and fishing trades, have also been added to the Shortage Occupation List to support the industry's workforce requirements.
From 7 August 2023 a new genuineness requirement has been added to the Skilled Worker, Global Business Mobility and the Scale-up routes.
Applicants under the above routes must genuinely intend, and be able, to undertake the role for which they are being sponsored. They must also have no intention to undertake other employment (other than as permitted under their visa).
Changes to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS)
Major changes have been introduced for the EU Settlement Scheme. These are relevant to those who already hold Pre-Settled Status under the scheme and those seeking to enter the scheme as a family member of a qualifying British citizen or a primary carer of a British citizen.
a) Automatic extension of Pre-Settled Status: Starting from September 2023, individuals holding Pre-Settled Status under the EUSS will have their status automatically extended by two years, if they have not obtained Settled Status by then. Individuals will be notified of the extension directly. If the Home Office is able to verify eligibility for Settled Status using digital records, eligible individuals will be automatically granted Settled Status without the need to make a separate application.
This change is being made in response to the recent High Court ruling that it is unlawful for the future immigration status of EEA and Swiss nationals with Pre-Settled Status conditional on them making an application for Settled Status.
Under the current system, individuals with Pre-Settled Status must submit an application for Settled Status before their Pre-Settled Status expires to secure their right to reside in the UK. So this is a welcome change for those who are yet to obtain Settled Status under the EUSS.
b) Route closures: As of 8 August 2023, new applications under the EUSS for the "family member of a qualifying British citizen" (Surinder Singh cases) and "primary carer of a British citizen" (Zambrano cases) are no longer accepted. These routes will remain open for those who are already on them or have pending applications, administrative reviews, or appeals.
Further extension of the Ukraine Extension Scheme
The Ukraine Extension Scheme enabled Ukrainian nationals who held immigration permission which expired between 1 January 2022 and 18 March 2022 to stay in the UK for a further period of 36 months.
Ukrainian nationals who obtained permission to enter or stay in the UK between 18 March 2022 and 16 November 2023 can now also apply to the Ukraine Extension Scheme and receive a further 36 months' permission to stay. The deadline for making an application under the scheme is 16 May 2024.
Tripling of fines for employing illegal workers
On 7 August the Home Secretary announced significant increases in civil penalties for employers who hire illegal migrants, marking the most extensive overhaul of such penalties since 2014.
Starting in 2024, fines for employing illegal workers will be as follows:
A fine of £45,000 if no previous illegal workers have been identified within the past three years (an increase from £15,000).
A fine of £60,000 per illegal worker if illegal workers have been identified within the previous three years (an increase from £20,000).
Additionally, the Home Office will initiate a consultation later this year on enhancing enforcement measures against licensed sponsors employing illegal workers.
The changes announced this summer mean significant amendments to some of the main immigration categories and the closure of some key routes. The looming increase in the cost of visa applications means quick action may be required to minimise the cost of any immigration applications that can benefit from the current rates. This might include extension applications for existing workers earlier than originally planned. Employers may also wish to assign Certificates of Sponsorship to any new and existing workers for a longer duration from the outset, to avoid the need to sponsor an extension application later and incur higher charges then.
The much higher penalties for employing illegal workers highlights the need for employers who lack a robust system for conducting right-to-work checks to ensure that they now adopt right to work checks in accordance with up-to-date Home Office guidance, for all workers in the UK. For sponsor licence holders it appears this is likely to be of even more importance, given the apparent intention to enhance enforcement measures for sponsors.
If you have been or will be affected by the changes and wish to explore your options, we encourage you to contact the Immigration Team at DMH Stallard, who will assess your situation and assist you in navigating the intricacies of the UK immigration system.