Business immigration: January and February 2024 developments and beyond

The new year has already presented a host of immigration law developments and various changes are upcoming. We've prepared a summary below to keep you in the loop.  

January 2024

First launched in October 2021, the Displaced Talent Mobility Pilot Scheme enables skilled and talented displaced people to be matched with sponsoring UK employers for a Skilled Worker Visa. The scheme initially applied to candidates in Lebanon and Jordan but has been expanded to all nationalities and locations since November 2023.

We are including this development within our article to bring this to the attention of employers and sponsors. The scheme is delivered in partnership with Talent Beyond Boundaries who assist employers in identifying suitable candidates for roles, facilitating the recruitment process, applying for the visa, preparing for the arrival of the recruit and providing ongoing support. If you are an employer interested in being involved in the pilot, you can contact TBB to find out more by email.

On 7 December 2023, the Home Office published a Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules HC 246 (the “Rules”) which will expand the range of activities visitors are allowed to do in the UK from 31 January 2024. The main changes relevant to employers are:

1. Clarity on remote working

Visitors will be allowed to work remotely on activities related to their overseas employment, provided it is not the primary purpose of their visit. The Rules contain no restrictions on the range of work activities that may be carried out remotely on behalf of an overseas employer. Currently this permission was only contained in the Visitor guidance and suggested limited activities such as responding to emails or answering phone calls. This clarity should allow business visitors more flexibility whilst in the UK.

2. Merging of Permitted Paid Engagements (PPE)

The PPE route will be absorbed into the standard visitor route. Practically, this means that non-visa nationals who enter the UK as a PPE visitor can use the eGate on arrival, rather than having to be stamped by a Border Force official. There is, however, still a requirement that the visitor arranges their PPE engagement before entry and completes it within 30 days of their arrival. This change entitles the PPE visitor to stay in the UK after completing their PPE engagement for up to six months in total, if they wish too. Previously, it was one month maximum in the UK under the PPE route, before they had to leave the country.

3. Expansion for research purposes

Academics, scientists and researchers will be allowed to carry out research in the UK as a visitor, provided this is for a specific project directly relating to their employment abroad. Currently, research is restricted to independent research and research for an academic’s own purposes while they are on a sabbatical from their home institution. However, this relaxation will only apply to those coming to the UK under the standard visitor route, it will not apply to academics applying for a 12-month academic visit visa or those applying to extend their permission from within the UK.

4. Intra-corporate activities allow direct client activity

Individuals employed abroad who visit a UK company within the same corporate group will now be allowed to carry out specific activities directly with clients. The specific activities are advising, consulting, troubleshooting, providing training and sharing skills and knowledge. The activities must be undertaken to deliver a project or service on behalf of the UK group company and is incidental to the visitor’s employment abroad. Currently, no work can be carried out directly with clients.

As confirmed in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, further revisions to the visitor rules are due to be rolled out in 2024, in line with the terms of future international trade deals. The changes are positive for employers but many businesses will still be seeking for the government to go further in the next phase.

As part of the Rules (noted above) and the Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules HC 1780, the Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS) visa is being expanded for applications made on or after 31 January 2024 in the following ways:

  • Applicants from Uruguay and Andorra will be eligible to participate.
  • The age limit for Australian, Canadian, and South Korean nationals will increase from 30 to 35.
  • Japanese and South Korean nationals may apply without first having an invitation.
  • The allocation of places for Japanese citizens will increase to 6,000 and 5,000 for South Korean nationals.
  • Australian and Canadian nationals will be able to stay on this route for up to three years and existing YMS migrants can apply to extend their visas for a further year.

February 2024

The Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme is a digital permission to travel to the UK to digitalise the UK border. The ETA scheme is being phased in during 2024. It is already open to Qatari nationals, who now require an ETA to travel to the UK.

From 1 February 2024, the ETA scheme will be open to nationals of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan who are travelling to the UK on or after 22 February 2024. The scheme will be open to more nationalities in due course.

Significant increases to the Immigration Health Surcharge were anticipated to come into effect from 16 January 2024. However, following delays they will now come into force on 6 February 2024. As a reminder, the revised annual cost will be:

  • Children, students and Youth Mobility Scheme applicants: £776 (up from £470)
  • Adults: £1035 (up from £624)

Sponsors are racing to assign Certificates of Sponsorship and applications to prepare their visa applications and documentation ahead of this date to benefit from the current lower fee.

Increases to the civil penalty for employers who employ illegal workers were anticipated to come into force from 22 January 2024. However, following delays they will now come into effect on 13 February 2024. Any employer issued with a penalty notice on or after 13 February 2024 will be subject to the increased penalty unless the illegal working ceased their employment on or before 12 February 2024. Once the new legislation is introduced, the civil penalty will rise to £45,000 per illegal worker (if there are no previous breaches in the last 3 years) and £60,000 per illegal worker for repeated breaches.

The Government has also published a new code of practice on preventing illegal working which sets out the actions employers can take to avoid liability for a civil penalty. This code of practice also comes into force from 13 February 2024.

Employers are advised to undertake regular reviews and audits of their right to work processes and documentation to ensure compliance. Staff responsible for this area should be adequately trained in completing compliant right to work checks and specialist legal advice sought where queries arise.

And beyond...

On 21 December 2023 and 30 January 2024, the government published further details on their plan to cut net migration and curb immigration abuse. Our previous article summarising the initial announced changes can be found here.

The Five Point Immigration Plan

1) Health and care workers banned from bringing dependants

Concerns from care workers already in the UK on a Health and Care Worker Visa and their employers have been alleviated following confirmation they will be able to remain in the UK with their dependants when they extend their visa, change their employer (provided this remains within the same SOC code) and apply for settlement. In addition, such care workers will also be able to bring dependants, such as parents and children, who they have not yet brought to the UK on this visa.

However, individuals who are in the UK under any other route and switch into the Health and Care Worker visa as a care worker or senior care worker, will not be able to stay with, or bring over, their dependants.

Furthermore, care providers who were sponsoring workers in activities not regulated by the Care Quality Commissioner (CQC) before the rules change in April 2024 should be able to continue to sponsor these workers, including extending these visas, but not hire new ones.

Changes to the rules for care workers and senior care workers are set to come into effect on 11 March 2024.

2) Skilled worker visa minimum salary change

Concerns from workers already in the UK on Skilled Worker visas with salaries less than that £38,700 and their employers have also been alleviated following confirmation they should be exempt from the new median salary levels when they change sponsor, extend their visa, or settle. However, the Home Office will expect their pay to progress at the same rate as resident workers. This means that when they next make an application to change employment, extend or settle, they will be subject to the updated 25th percentile using the latest pay data. We expect the 25th percentile to be £29,000.

These changes are meant to deter sponsors from being over reliant on overseas recruitment and will be introduced via Immigration Rules with implementation coming into effect on 4 April 2024.

3) Shortage Occupation List replaced by Immigration Salary List

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) have accepted to commission a rapid review of the current occupations and salaries contained in the Shortage Occupational List (SOL). The MAC is expected to report with recommendations around 23 February 2024 so that an initial Immigration Salary List (ISL) will be available from 4 April 2024. The current SOL will remain in place until the new salary thresholds are confirmed. A fuller review of the ISL will be commissioned later in 2024.

4) Graduate route review

The MAC will be commissioned to review the Graduate route and the outcome is not expected until late 2024.

5) Family visa increased maintenance level

There was an immediate outcry when the Government announced in early December that the minimum income requirement for family visas will be more than doubled, from £18,600 to £38,700.

To give greater predictability to families, the Home Office have u-turned and announced that this increase will happen in incremental stages. On 11 April 2024, the Government will raise the threshold to £29,000, moving to £34,500 (anticipated in mid to late 2024) and finally £38,700. On 2 January 2024, the Government confirmed that the full £38,700 would be in effect by Spring 2025.

Those with family visas within the five-year partner route, who apply before the income threshold is raised, or for children seeking to join or accompany parents, will not be subject to the increased income thresholds.

In addition, anyone granted a fiancé(e) visa before the increased income thresholds come into effect will be subject to the current income threshold when they apply for a family visa within the five-year partner route.

The Sponsor Management System (SMS) for sponsor licence holders has been updated to state that from 6 April 2024 the Home Office is removing the requirement for sponsors to renew their sponsor licences – meaning that licences will no longer have an expiry date. As an interim measure, all licences due to expire after 6 April 2024 have now been automatically extended by 10 years (which will be visible on the licence summary page), but those who have a licence expiring before 6 April 2024 will still need to make a renewal application via the SMS and pay the associated fee. This abolition may free up time for the UKVI to conduct more compliance audits in 2024 and therefore sponsors should continue to ensure their systems and processes comply at all times.

What we're seeing...

Given the above developments, we are seeing an increasing number of delays for sponsors and applicants in the standard Home Office processing times. Defined Certificates of Sponsorship are taking on average between one week to one month to be granted. We have also experienced applicants, utilising the priority service from within the UK, suffering visa decision delays outside of the five working day period. If you are considering overseas recruitment sponsors are advised to plan accordingly.

If you have any queries or require advice on these changes. Please contact Gemma Robinson on the contact details below.  

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