United Kingdom: Changes to the Immigration Rules

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published on 9 January 2024 | reading time approx. 4 minutes

 

In December 2023, the UK government published a Statement of Changes to the post-Brexit Immigration Rules. Two key changes concern an increase in the permitted acti­vities that may be undertaken by Business Visitors and changes to the Youth Mobility Scheme. Conversely, five new measures have also been announced to reduce net migration to the UK which are due to take effect this Spring. 

    

 

 

  

Visitor visa changes to take effect from 31 January 2024

  1. Visitors to the UK will be allowed to work directly with clients, provided any such activity is incidental to their employment abroad and to the delivery of a wider project by the UK branch of their overseas employer;
  2. Visitors may work remotely for their overseas employer whilst they are in the UK, provided that remote working is not the primary purpose of their visit;
  3. Scientists, researchers and academics will generally be able to conduct research in the UK as part of their visit; 
  4. Lawyers visiting the UK will be able to provide a wider list of legal services, including providing legal advice, appearing in arbitrations, acting as an expert witness, conferences, teaching and litigation;
  5. Speakers at conferences will be able to be paid for their appearance;
  6. Individuals who are conducting Permitted Paid Engagements (i.e. if they’ve been invited as an expert in their profession by a UK-based organisation or client) will be able to do so under a Standard Visitor visa and the engagement must take place within 30 days of arrival.
 

Youth Mobility Scheme changes

Youth Mobility visa holders are able to live and work in the UK without work sponsorship making this visa route an attractive one for employers. Uruguay is being added to the list of countries in the scheme, and there will be an increased quota of visas available for nationals of Japan and the Republic of Korea, as well as a more flexible application process. 
 

Plans to reduce legal migration to the UK

Against this backdrop, the government also announced five new measures to reduce net migration to the UK earlier this month. The measures will take effect in Spring 2024:
  1. The minimum salary threshold for Skilled Worker visas will be increased from £26,200 to £38,700 a year (or the going rate for the role, if higher) although the government has since clarified that people already on the Skilled Worker visa route will not be subject to the new threshold when they change employment, extend, or settle. In addition, those coming on the Health and Care visa route and those on national pay scales will be exempt from this increase;
  2. In accordance with the Migration Advisory Committee's (MAC) previous recommendations, the 20 percent salary discount for roles on the Shortage Occupation List will be scrapped and a smaller list of shortage roles on an "immigration salary list" will be introduced which will retain a general threshold discount. The MAC has been instructed to review the new list against the increased salary thresholds to reduce the number of occupations on it;
  3. Care workers will no longer be able to bring dependants to the UK and care firms in England will need to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission to sponsor visas;
  4. The minimum income threshold for family visas (for example, as the spouse or partner of a British or settled person in the UK) will increase significantly from £18,600 to £29,000. This is actually a decrease from the previously announced threshold of £38,700 in early December which would have matched the new Skilled Worker minimum income threshold. On 21 December 2023, the government rowed back on plans to increase the salary to that level straight away before saying that it would rise "in incremental stages" to give "predictability". The plan is now for it to rise to £34,500 and then eventually £38,700 but no dates for implementation were given.
  5. The MAC will be instructed to conduct a review of the Graduate route to ensure it "works in the best interests of the UK" and is not being abused.
 
The government also reaffirmed measures announced previously, including:
  1. 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.
  2. The Immigration Health Surcharge will increase from £624 to £1,035 per year from January 2024.
 
Around 300,000 people who came to the UK last year would now not have been able to come if these measures were in place when they applied. The plan is designed to reduce legal migration by at least 300,000 people per year.
 

Looking ahead 

Going forward, employers need to plan ahead in terms of timing and budget for any future international hires so as to ensure compliance with the new regime. 
 
Secondly, spouses and partners planning to apply to join their families in the UK will need to be mindful of the increased salary threshold and may even need to consider applying under different routes.
 
As always, the Immigration Rules are still in a state of flux and we will continue to monitor them and report any key changes that may impact our clients. 
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