Business Immigration: Changes on the horizon in 2024
There are a number of changes underway in the world of Business Immigration for 2024. We set out below the key changes and what to look out for.
- Government announces plan to cut net migration – key points:
- The government will increase the minimum salary threshold for overseas workers from its current position of £26,200 to £38,700 from next spring, although an exact date has not yet been confirmed. It is not clear whether individuals who are already sponsored under this route and will be applying for extensions after the change takes place will need to be sponsored by the new higher rate in order to qualify for an extension or whether they will be protected by transitional provisions.
- The Migration Advisory Committee will be asked to review the Graduate visa route to ensure it works in the best interests of the UK and to ensure steps are being taken to prevent abuse.
- The government will end the 20% going-rate salary discount for shortage occupations and replace the Shortage Occupation List with a new Immigration Salary List. The Migration Advisory Committee will review the new list and against the increased salary thresholds in order to reduce the number of occupations on the list.
- Those applying for an overseas care worker visa under the Health and Care visas route will be prevented from bringing their dependants to the UK.
- The minimum income required for British citizens and those settled in the UK making applications for family members to join them in the UK will be increased to £38,700.
Full details of the measures announced by the Home Secretary can be found here.
Employers with sponsorship licences will need to ensure they keep up to date with the changes and remain compliant. We will provide further updates as soon as more detail is released.
- Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) set to increase.
The IHS will increase from 16 January 2024. The IHS is an upfront cost paid by the individual applicant alongside the submission of most visa applications so that the individual is entitled to have access to healthcare provided by the NHS, whilst in the UK.
In terms of the increase, it will jump from £624 to £1,035 for most individuals applying for a visa. The IHS is charged per year and covers the duration of any visa application applied for.
In order to minimise costs, employers may want to think about making sponsorship and immigration applications ahead of the rise where possible.
- Right to work checks and latest developments
Recap – what are the options for compliant right to work checks?
- Manual – obtaining original acceptable documents in line with the latest Right to Work guidance, copying that document, checking it is genuine and then keeping appropriate records of that document. (Biometric Residence Card, Biometric Residence Permit and Frontier Work Permit holders are only able to evidence their right to work using the Home Office online service. Therefore, physical copies of these documents cannot be accepted or checked as proof of right to work).
- Online – employer is provided with a share code and their date of birth from the prospective candidate, and this is entered into the Government’s online right to work check service. The employer then checks the online profile page generated in the presence of the candidate (either in person or via a video link) and then retains the appropriate documentation.
- Using an Identity Service Provider (IDSP) – who will work in partnership with the employer to carry out digital right to work checks, relating to British and Irish citizens, who hold a valid passport.
Carrying out compliant right to work checks is important. If employers do, then they can rely on a statutory excuse and will not receive a civil penalty.
If employers do not carry out compliant right to work checks, then there are major consequences. The Home Office has confirmed that there will be increases to illegal working fines (civil penalties) and this will take effect from 22 January 2024. The current civil penalty for each illegal worker is up to £20,000. In terms of the increase, the starting point for a civil penalty will be £45,000 per worker for first breaches and £60,000 per worker for repeat breaches.
In preparation for this, the Home Office have published a draft code of practice on preventing illegal working, which once approved by Parliament, will apply to all right to work checks from 22 January 2024. The draft code can be found here.
Not only is there a risk of a financial burden, but there are also other significant consequences of failing to carry out complaint right to work checks, namely:
- Reputational damage – details of employers who have been employing illegal workers is made public.
- Criminal implications – can range from an unlimited fine to director imprisonment of up to 5 years, if committed knowingly.
- Sharing of information with other government enforcement agencies.
- Potential for sponsorship licence to be revoked or downgraded, resulting in future recruitment strategies and placing existing sponsored migrants at risk.
Employers should be thinking about looking at their existing right to work systems and follow up processes and seeing whether any changes need to be made. Ensure that staff that are responsible for right to work checks have had the appropriate training.
- Individuals with Biometric Residence Permits (BRP)/Biometric Residence Cards (BRC)
Many BRPs and BRCs are due to expire on 31 December 2024, this is the case even where the holder’s immigration permission expires after this, or where they are settled and have no expiry date for their permission.
The Home Office intends to phase out BRPs and other physical immigration documents from 1 January 2025. The intention is to move towards using an electronic visa (eVisa) system. More information can be found here.
The following physical immigration documents will be replaced by eVisas:
- BRPs – currently held by some individuals who have limited immigration permission longer than 6 months, or who are settled in the UK.
- BRCs – currently held by some EU Settlement Scheme participants.
- Those who have leave confirmed with an ink stamp or vignette.
Holders of these physical documents will need to register for a UKVI account during 2024 to enable them to access an eVisa version of their immigration permission.
An individual can then use this service to issue a share code to their employer as part of a right to work check.
Steps employers can be taking:
- Work out which workers’ repeat right to work check is due on 31 December 2024.
- Think about asking, but not requiring affected individuals to complete an early repeat check using the online right to work check process. This will assist with enabling that any repeat right to work checks that need to be carried out, are in line with the expiry of individual’s existing immigration permission.
- Help prompt workers with obtaining a UKVI account. The Home Office will be providing updates in 2024 as to when the accounts will need to be registered.