Latest changes in business immigration | September 2023

Significant increases in right to work (and rent) fines in 2024

The Home Secretary has announced that right to work (and rent) fines are set to triple from the start of 2024. The civil penalty for employers will be raised from £15,000 up to £45,000 per illegal worker for a first breach and from £20,000 up to £60,000, for repeat breaches. Ministers hope that these higher fines will serve as a deterrent to asylum seekers crossing the Channel and 'forms part of the Home Office's wider strategy to combat illegal migration to the UK'.

The Home Office are certainly using their resources to increase their immigration enforcement activity this year with a specific focus on illegal working, with more arrests having taken place in 2023 than during the whole of 2022. As such, it is important that employers review their right to work policies to ensure adequate compliance, in accordance with the latest guidance and train their staff appropriately.

Key updates within the latest Statement of Changes

In the latest Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules (HC1780), published on 7 September 2023, the Home Office announced various changes and we highlight some of the main changes that employers should be aware of, including:

From 31 January 2024, Andorra is being added to the list of countries and territories eligible under the Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS). A total of 100 places will be available to citizens of Andorra. As already with New Zealand, the arrangements with Australian and Canadian nationals will be enhanced so that they will be eligible from 18 – 35 years old (previously capped at 30) for a duration in the UK of 3 years (previously 2 years). A minor technical edit has also been made to clarify the limitations on self-employment in this route.

By way of reminder, the UK will launch an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme from October 2023 in a phased manner, on a nationality basis. The ETA scheme will apply to passengers visiting the UK or transiting through the UK who do not currently need a visa for short stays and do not have any other immigration status before travelling.

From 5 October 2023, NHS debt will be removed as a ground for refusal of an ETA application, however, travellers who have outstanding NHS debts, and who do not take the necessary steps to settle their debts in advance of travel, may be refused entry on arrival at the UK border. The changes also clarify that while a person who is lawfully resident in Ireland will not require an ETA while they are travelling within the Common Travel Area, they may be required to demonstrate residency in Ireland to enter the UK. For further details on such suitable evidence, see the government’s website.

From 5 October 2023, prison service officers are being made eligible for the Skilled Worker route. This occupation meets the skills threshold and workers can be sponsored where the Civil Service nationality requirements are met.

New Visa fees set to come into effect from 4 October 2023 (but not the Immigration Health Surcharge increase)

In our bulletin at the end of July 2023, we reported on Rishi Sunak's announcement that immigration fees across the board were expected to rise. On 15 September 2023, legislation was laid before Parliament, seeking approval for immigration and nationality fees to increase from 4 October 2023. This would include, but is not limited to, the proposed increases to work and study visas, visit visas, Certificate of Sponsorships and in and out of country priority and super priority service fees.

The date of the planned increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) remains unknown, however, the Home Office's press release suggests that this is being scheduled for later in Autumn 2023. Employers are encouraged to act on their recruitment pipeline if they wish to benefit from the current fees.

20-hour cap on supplementary worker resumes for Health & Care workers

In February 2023, the government aimed to alleviate staffing pressures in the health sector by allowing qualified healthcare workers to work in a second job for as many hours as they liked without updating their visa, as long as this second job was also eligible for the Health & Care Worker visa.

However, since 27 August 2023, this exemption has been removed and the 20-hour cap on supplementary employment has been reinstated. Employers in this sector must address this rule change and ensure that each of their workers have the necessary permission to work in the UK. Employers may have to resort to sponsor the worker if they need to update their visa conditions.

Additional extension under the Youth Mobility Scheme to include Uruguayan nationals

From 31 January 2024, Uruguayan nationals aged 18-30 will be able to apply to live and work in the UK, through the Youth Mobility Scheme. This is going to be a reciprocal scheme for young British nationals looking for opportunities to work in Uruguay.

Interestingly, this update was not contained in the latest Statement of Changes (see further details on those changes above), instead this was released by a Home Office tweet, on 17 August 2023. We anticipate that an annual quota will apply (similar to Andorra) but await further details.